The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

Lydia Davis

I picked up All the King’s Horses as a break from this and found that a longer narrative really hit the spot. Afterward I decided to finish up the stories in the section I was reading here and come back to the rest of the collection later, only to discover somewhat disappointingly that there were just a handful until that next break. But I’m sticking to the plan.

Davis most notably writes a lot of short fiction, sometimes just a paragraph or even a sentence in length. Often her characters aren’t given names; sometimes the story will be from the perspective of a couple and the whole thing is written as “we” and “us,” and it’s not annoying. She doesn’t subscribe to the convention that a story needs a definitive arc across beginning, middle, end — some just play with a phrase, teasing it out in several directions, and others seem more focused on banalities than deeper emotions. She writes stories like poems: little is directly said, but the words vibrate off each other suggesting more. Even the longer stories lack the standard setting and contextualizing that can weigh down a story, though some of those lengthier pieces could use a bit of that weight to help with momentum.

Overall, a distinct pleasure in experimental short fiction. I may bury myself in this again come summer.

See also: Her story “Break it Down” can be heard at the end of This American Life episode #88: Numbers.