Troy's Reviews > Varieties of Disturbance

Varieties of Disturbance by Lydia Davis
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Jan 11, 2009

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Read in January, 2009

I think I would give this a higher rating if I could stop thinking about Bolano's 2666. But as much as I admire Lydia Davis' writing, and as much as I respect her ingenuity, few of her stories knocked me out. All of her stories were clever, and most were full of beautiful turns of phrase and fantastic experimentation, I was not always engaged. That said, some of her stories are fantastic, and a few are contemporary classics.

Davis is the new heir to American experimental writing, and is definitely coming out of the anything-goes and overly-intellectual style of Donald Barthelme. Many of her "stories" are no more than a sentence, and many others are exceptionally short, like the following:

THE FLY

At the back of the bus,
inside the bathroom,
this very small illegal passenger,
on its way to Boston.

But her stand outs in this collection are a couple of the longer stories, esp. "We Miss You: A Study of Get-Well Letters from a Class of Fourth-Graders" which is exactly what the title says it is, but which is oddly affecting, and draws a lovely pictures from noting but textual analysis of a bunch of meaningless acts. Likewise, "The Walk" seems auto-biographical, and is Davis' account of a meeting between a translator and a critic. Davis copies the style of Proust, whose book "Swann's Way," Davis recently translated to much acclaim. In the story, the translator quotes Proust and captures Proust's unmoored longing, attention to detail, and obsession with memory and loss. It's a fantastic short story in a collection of wonderful shorts.

Also worth checking out: Enlightened, Grammar Questions, Passing Wind, Mrs. D and Her Maids
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