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Can't and Won't: Stories

3.63 of 5 stars 3.63  ·  rating details  ·  1,474 ratings  ·  268 reviews
A new collection of short stories from the writer Rick Moody has called “the best prose stylist in America”

Her stories may be literal one-liners: the entirety of “Bloomington” reads, “Now that I have been here for a little while, I can say with confidence that I have never been here before.” Or they may be lengthier investigations of the havoc wreaked by the most mundane d
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Hardcover, 289 pages
Published April 8th 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2014)
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s.penkevich
A ‘story’ is much more than a plot, and the marvelous Lydia Davis is a master at examining the pliability of the concept of ‘story’. Can’t and Won’t, the most recent collection by Davis, takes a slightly more somber atmosphere than previous collections while exquisitely elevating everyday occurrences to extract the literary elements that exist all around us. These stories range from a mere dozen words or a dozen sentences to a dozen pages, each packed with equal amounts of power and insight. Man ...more
Mala
Jun 21, 2014 Mala rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: MFA students in creative writing course
Recommended to Mala by: Lydia Davis hype

3.5 stars. My first LD– didn't really leave the best impression. It's the kind of book that gets published on the strength of a writer's already solid reputation.

A mixed bag– lots of meh,some pretty impressive stories,esp. those translated/expanded upon from Flaubert.
Her prose is sharp & shines in stories like The Dog Hair,& the Reversible Story but the voice that comes across in stories like Eating Fish Alone,& The dreadful Mucamas,is highly annoying,almost anal...
What passes here f
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MJ Nicholls
More LD equals a triple chocolate and fudge surprise minus the week-long sickness and hours straining at stool. This is another characteristic assemblage of micro-stories and longer mental peregrinations, narrated in that gentle intellectual register. Among the longer pieces: ‘The Landing’ evokes the terror of turbulence on a routine passenger flight, ‘The Dreadful Mucamas’ is a surreal and satirical tale of misbehaving Mexican servants, ‘The Cows’ details the complex movements and behaviours of ...more
Cheryl
Some of this reminds me of My Struggle: Book One. Sort of like Knausgaard crossed with Steven Wright. She has a better sense of humor than Karl Ove though.

The stories challenge you to consider what is a story. They don’t always have a beginning, a middle, and an end. They are not poetry. They are playing, playful sometimes.

Some are just pithy observations. This might be overstating it in some cases. Just observations then. Waiting to take on whatever significance the reader chooses. Like the art
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Kristen
You know how sometimes you come on here, and look at the reviews other readers have left, and thought, "Well, okay, I guess I'll keep going"? Then you finish and find yourself wondering how the book has so many 4 and 5 star reviews. That's where I am right now.

I don't mind the occasional super-short short story; that's fine. In fact, my favorite of this entire book was just that; entitled "Housekeeping Observation", the entire story is this, "Under all this dirt/the floor is really very clean."
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Tosh
After reading this collection of short stories by Lydia Davis, the only single word that comes to my mind is "perfect." Her observations on various aspects of life are extremely funny or moving - or sometimes both. A lot of people comment on the length of her stories, but I think that is really not that important. She is sort of like a boxer who knows when to strike and when to walk away. Her prose writing is beautifully sculptured, and one marvel not only in her skill in putting words together ...more
Toni Konkoly
I really, really loved her Collected Stories, when they came out a few years back, but this one ... meh. Not sure whether she's just not on her A-game here, or it's me that's changed. Have I lost my appetite for super-arty literature? (And if so, is that a good or bad thing?) Or, was she being waaaayyyy too self-indulgent & self-involved here? I mean, 30% of the "stories" (as they were) in this book are essentially straight from her dream journal (literally, annotated "dream"). And is it not ...more
Abby
"Oh, we writers may think we invent too much — but reality is worse every time!"

LYDIA DAVIS! She could not be more perfect. This collection is weird and brilliant and funny and surprising. It utterly delighted me in every way; her style got embedded in my brain. Upon finishing this collection, I felt like I was actually thinking and reasoning and observing my daily activities in a Lydia Davis-esque way. Which I am more than OK with. Highly recommended to anyone with eyes.
Julie Ehlers
I found this book perplexing. I liked the longer stories, such as "The Seals," which I found very moving, and "The Letter to the Foundation," which I thought shed some real light on human nature. The shorter ones I had a harder time with. I definitely enjoyed some of them, such as the one where she wrote to a frozen-vegetable company to tell them the photo of frozen peas on their packages needed to be a more vibrant green, or the one where she said that she enjoyed ordering fish at restaurants a ...more
Toto
I did not like Lydia Davis' translations of Madame Bovary or Swann's Way. For lack of a better expression, they "smelled" of translation. Language was very self conscious; these translations invited the reader to see the story as being told in language rather than forget the language and immerse oneself in the story. It was off putting. Reading Swann's Way in her translation was a chore for me, and I thought it was Proust. Reading it elsewhere, and in other languages too, I saw that it was Lydia ...more
Janet Berkman
Well, wow.

First of all, I can't believe that I've never read any of her work before.

This collection is what I imagine a writer's diary to be like: the stories range from a line or two to 25 pages. Each start on a new page. Some are dreams. Some are (translated) excerpts from Flaubert. Letters. Snippets of conversation. Davis elevates the mundane to philosophical pondering, and brings down the self-important.

I want to read more.

And start a writer's diary.
Iletrado
Sueños, juegos de palabras, pruebas, estudios, anotaciones, ideas, cartas ficticias, dudas... Hay relatos en este libro absolutamente magistrales, como 'Las focas', y textos que son puro divertimento, una especie de comentarios y observaciones de la vida cotidiana. Davis se fija en esos detalles que, a priori, no despiertan interés alguno y logra que nos sorprenda en más de una ocasión.
Blair
May 12, 2014 Blair marked it as unsuccessful-attempt  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014-release
I'm not getting anywhere with this. I feel like the majority of the stories could have been written by anyone, so clearly I don't understand it in the right way, or maybe it's not a good place to start given that I haven't read anything else by Davis? Might go back and finish if I feel I have any reason to, but I can't see that happening.
C.S. Mize
Simply put, the writing is just not good, and the pieces individually and collectively are dull, bland, and without taste. This book is like a burnt biscuit for me. No amount of jam sweetened it up; in fact the more fluff, the more I felt burned.

Obviously, I really hated this book. I found it wordy and tiresome. I rarely say I hate a book. However, I read A LOT so it has to happen sometimes I guess. Being a pretty fast reader, I see no reason after I buy a book to not finish it- I kind of made
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Ellie
Lydia Davis is as brilliant as always. I can't figure out what she does. It starts out seeming simplistic but it gains power as you keep reading. Now I can't get the stories out of my head (even one that is literally 3 lines long). She's an addiction (like her heroine in "A Small Story about a Small Box of Chocolates"-one of my favorite).

I have to go start re-reading.
Eric T. Voigt Voigt
Lydia Davis always acts as a sort of shining example of The Writer. She sets out to describe things so clearly, whether they're mundane observations, simply descriptions of cows standing in a field or how the weather looks out a window, or highly complex emotional situations, where internal dialogue is an entire story, it's always epically engrossing. Like, bring on the cows. How many were standing there? Three? Excellent. And she's so clear about everything it reminds me that words have an enor ...more
Courtney Lou
Don't get me wrong, I love Lydia Davis and was really expecting this book to be 5-start-worthy, (maybe the problem was with my expectations…) but I felt kind of disappointed with this collection. I found the Flaubert stories entertaining, however, I wasn't the biggest fan of the dream stories. I can see how they're interesting to analyze, but that's really where the appeal ended. Some how I felt the dream stories were a cop out. I know that's wrong and probably not fair, but the collection start ...more
Sara Kovacs
I'm calling a case of the Emperor has no clothes. I am amazed at the number of 4 and 5 star reviews of this, people calling it "brilliant"?! 20-something pages of descriptions of cows walking and standing. 5 pages of lines from obituaries. The interminable Letter to the Foundation. I forced myself to slog through this, thinking it had to get better or that at some point a light bulb would go on and I'd "get it", but I don't think there's anything to get. I have never read Lydia Davis before but ...more
Josh Ang
This collection is, if nothing else, interesting. There are pithy pieces consisting of no more than a line, to at its longest, a confessional and touching bit of autobiographical fiction about the narrator and her relationship with her half-sister, entitled "The Seals", which is all of 27 pages, and possibly the most 'complete' story in terms of a conventional narrative.

That Davis is anything but conventional is immediately apparent in the form and content of most her stories. They range from l
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Rick
Lydia Davis writes short stories like few others, if any. They are short and unconventional. Many can be quoted in full in the space of a review. There are prose poems, koans, epistles, found poems/stories, dreams, stories from the letters and journals of Flaubert, and one or two more traditional narrative stories. Well maybe only one of the latter. A koan like story, called “Bloomington”:
Now that I have been here for a little while, I can say with confidence that I have never been here before.”
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Jeff Buddle
I truly think that Lydia Davis is one of our most important contemporary writers, that her work will be re-printed, anthologized, studied and eventually work its way into the American canon. This new collection just affirms that notion. Funny, sly, insightful, reserved, and delicate, Ms. Davis's best stories seem to hide a deep emotional undercurrent. Something is lurking under these still waters, but it's often unclear what it might be.

In my opinion, Lydia Davis's stories straddle the line bet
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Alex V.
I tore through this. Reading it was like pounding nails on a construction project, uneasy strokes are soon replaced by smooth, definitive arcs. It was like I was learning to read these intense snippets as I went on, and got good at it. Really, I just checked this book out four hours ago and bang, bang, bang! I'm done.

I've tried unsuccessfully to get into Ms. Davis' giant collection of stories a number of times. They felt a little like the writing of someone who liked writing too much. Or likely,
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Jay
I suppose my biggest problem with this book is that I can't seem to get past seeing Davis' approach as a novelty. At her best, she is insightful, deft, surprising, but I'm wanting to experience that far more than continually noticing that there is one micro-story after another. It feels like eating hors d'oeuvres for the main course, which leaves me unsatisfied, even if some of them are delicious.
Kacy Elizabeth
Since Catholic secondary school, my teachers, in condemning fashion, advised students to avoid contractions as though their function were the devil himself, luring us into a world of apathy. Fast forward to college — the contraction rule remained. Unless you were a masochist and enjoyed seeing considerable amounts of red pen, contractions were only pardoned in dialogue and creative meanderings.

However, in Lydia Davis’s latest collection of short stories, “Can’t and Won’t,” she proves contrary, p
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Lisa
As Lydia Davis wrote;

The Bad Novel
This dull, difficult novel I have brought with me on my trip - I keep trying to read it. I have gone back to it so many times, each time dreading it and each time finding it no better than the last time, that by now it has become something of an old friend. My old friend the bad novel.

OR

The Old Vacuum Cleaner Keeps Dying on Her
The old vacuum cleaner keeps dying on her
over and over
until at last the cleaning woman
scares it by yelling:
"Motherfucker!"

OR

The Husband
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Rick
ANSWER: "Can't and Won't"
QUESTION: Will I read another book of "stories" by Lydia Davis?
Nei1as
Olmamış diyor ve Davis'i yerine alıyoruz
Jessica D. Bicking
I had been really curious about this one.
Reviews I had read praised Davis as the re-inventer and master of the (very-)short story; a pioneer of the genre, a fusion between short story and poem. All that.

It is not that I strictly disagree - all of this was exceptionally well written and yes, there was so much plot, especially in the short pieces without there actually being formulated any plot. She has a wonderful way of examining the possibilities of the concept of a 'story'. And last, but not
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S.
Coincidentally, today just before I finished this a colleague handed back to me Varieties of Disturbance, which I'd lent to her some time ago. I asked her how she liked it and she said she liked much of it, but sometimes felt Davis was full of herself, and must think all her words are gold-plated.
I don't feel that way at all, though I think Can't and Won't: Stories is a better collection. I got so used to the very short that I kind of dreaded the stories of normal length, even though there were
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Philip
Taking this opportunity to say: All Hail the Journals and Magazines, online and off, who continue in the faces of uncertainty to focus on singular pursuits of reading, then curating, then editing and then publishing works of short fiction – of emerging writers, established, and masters. It is in the pages of those journals that I can, as a reader, come across fiction that challenges me and delights me. Its where I find fiction that stretches my own definition of the world and of the idea of what ...more
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500 Great Books B...: Can't and Won't - Lydia Davis - Cheryl 1 18 Oct 18, 2014 01:00PM  
Book Keeping: Can't and Won't by Lydia Davis 1 20 Mar 14, 2014 08:03AM  
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Lydia Davis, acclaimed fiction writer and translator, is famous in literary circles for her extremely brief and brilliantly inventive short stories. In fall 2003 she received one of 25 MacArthur Foundation “Genius” awards. In granting the award the MacArthur Foundation praised Davis’s work for showing “how language itself can entertain, how all that what one word says, and leaves unsaid, can hold ...more
More about Lydia Davis...
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis Varieties of Disturbance Samuel Johnson Is Indignant The End of the Story Break it Down

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“I had had a feeling of freedom because of the sudden change in my life. By comparison to what had come before, I felt immensely free. But then, once I became used to that freedom, even small tasks became more difficult. I placed constraints on myself, and filled the hours of the day. Or perhaps it was even more complicated than that. Sometimes I did exactly what I wanted to do all day—I lay on the sofa and read a book, or I typed up an old diary—and then the most terrifying sort of despair would descend on me: the very freedom I was enjoying seemed to say that what I did in my day was arbitrary, and that therefore my whole life and how I spent it was arbitrary.” 3 likes
“The Dog Hair The dog is gone. We miss him. When the doorbell rings, no one barks. When we come home late, there is no one waiting for us. We still find his white hairs here and there around the house and on our clothes. We pick them up. We should throw them away. But they are all we have left of him. We don’t throw them away. We have a wild hope—if only we collect enough of them, we will be able to put the dog back together again.” 1 likes
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