The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

Lydia Davis

I read the first two books in this collection not quite two years ago. Now maybe wasn’t the best time to revisit this, as I felt pretty distracted until the end when I was able to find some focus again. But then reading one of Davis’s books is more of an effort than you would expect, partially because her stories vary from the incredibly short to involved. The incredibly short ones seem like they would be the easiest, but sometimes the linguistic riffing takes some time to untangle. Even the involved stories don’t follow any kind of traditional narrative and don’t necessarily sweep you up in the usual way.

Two of my favorite longer stories from the last book in this collection are “We Miss You: A Study of Get-Well Letters from a Class of Fourth-Graders” and “Helen and Vi: A Study in Health and Vitality,” which, as their subtitles describe, are fictional studies. A 2010 Rumpus interview reveals that “We Miss You” was inspired by an actual collection of get-well letters: “I was moved by the letters, and my response was to create a rather cool sociologist type who would study the letters in minute detail.”

Overall her writing is austere and even technical; comic and even absurd. Does anyone else even write one-liner stories?

Mother’s Reaction to My Travel Plans

Gainesville! It’s too bad your cousin is dead!