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Break It Down: Stories

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  1,447 Ratings  ·  143 Reviews
The thirty-four stories in this seminal collection powerfully display what have become Lydia Davis's trademarks—dexterity, brevity, understatement, and surprise. Although the certainty of her prose suggests a world of almost clinical reason and clarity, her characters show us that life, thought, and language are full of disorder. Break It Down is Davis at her best. In the ...more
ebook, 192 pages
Published September 16th 2008 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1986)
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perfect for the holidays … very short fiction

One of Davis’s influences, from a young age, was Samuel Beckett. In this interview Davis talks about her craft and other things literary. Here’s a second interview with very little overlap to the previous one:

boneless fiction

It’s been said that Davis has, with her short stories, created her own genre. Well, what is this genre? I’ll be so bold as to attempt a descripti
Apr 21, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book pissed me off a little. It's not that there aren't flashes of greatness in this ultra-short story collection. Because there are, particularly in the title story. But at her very worst, Lydia Davis inundates her readers with terse anecdotes or observations that don't seem to have anything going for them. They aren't linguistically or rhythmically interesting. They don't suggest or allude to some Grand Ineffable Something going on behind the scenes. They aren't affecting. They aren't amu ...more
This is the second collection of "short stories" by Lydia Davis that I've tried, and it will be my last. The other collection, "Samuel Johnson is Indignant" had enough flashes of genuine wit to make it almost tolerable, despite Ms Davis's predilection for microscopically short "stories" (sometimes no more than a sentence long) and a preternaturally detached prose style. The kind of writing that garners raves from the usual suspects - "The best prose stylist in America" (Rick Moody), "one of most ...more
Carrie Lorig
lydia davis punched out every lady author i worshiped before her. so much tougher and aware than didion. none of the light self-pity that is sort entwined in loorie moore's work. it's clean and sad. it's less of a game than her ex-husband's (paul auster) books can be. i feel like lydia davis is peeping in my apartment at night. and that is so much more terrifying than any of the premises and theory of the new york triology. god. she cracked my heart open like a pomegranate, but i enjoyed looking ...more
Adam Dalva
Feb 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Disclosure: Lydia was a grad school professor of mine, but I really do love this book. What's great about it - possibly unique - is how the stories revolve around the same central trauma (divorce, loneliness) in a way that feels incredibly personal without connecting in any tangible way. It's therefore not really linked, but it is certainly spoked. The book ebbs and flows in quality, but is always perfect on the line level (sometimes to the fault of being overly systemic. She never omits the "st ...more
Feb 11, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
my previous experience w lydia davis has been overall positive if limited but good lord is this book excruciating. i cannot imagine someone reading this end to end, or even reading one of the longer stories (it's 75% longer stories by volume) and saying to themself with any semblance of honesty "i enjoyed that" or even "i will someday think about this story ever again". one star because the short ones are great! a second star because the title story is rad! but the other long ones are actual CIA ...more
I heard the story "Break it Down" on This American Life and had to check this collection out. The title story is so great. I love it. The rest of the stories in the rest of the collection share a similar narrative style, but hardly any of the emotional weight. They read more like clever exercises, but after just a few I realized I didn't particularly care about the people, the story, or the ideas she was playing with. It reads to me as sort of "academic literature," where they kiss the story and ...more
May 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Joy Williams, Todd Hasak-Lowy, Lorrie Moore
I like the last story and the first story and some of the other stories.

I like "The Fish."
Jan 26, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It's not a pleasant sensation, reading Lydia Davis. She writes well, she's a disciple of the "simplify, simplify" school, but.... I take my words now from the response I wrote to Break it Down for class:

There is much within-ness within Davis' work. It invites the reader to examine herself, and not in the cajoling way that some texts have of encouraging such examination, but an inescapable one that isn't necessarily optimistic or pretty. I sometimes feel as if Davis reveals more about me to mysel
Jan 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
I was bemused by the fact that Lydia Davis, whose translation of Proust's Swann's Way is so excellent, is also likewise a superb writer of short stories. In Break It Down: Stories, some of the stories are very short indeed, often no more than a middling paragraph in length.

What struck me first, however, was the almost complete lack of dialog, it being one of the principles of the modern short story that the reader is drawn to come to his own conclusions by reading what the characters say to one
Kate Weinland
Jan 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would give this book five stars if it were just for the title story "Break It Down." The rest paled in comparison to it, which is more a compliment to "Break it Down" than a criticism of the others.

I have been in love with "Break It Down" for five years--it was assigned for a creative writing class I took in college. Every time I read this story, it makes me cry. And that's not something I do easily.

No story better captures the feelings we all experience after breaking up with someone we rea
Feb 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Are you kneeling and putting your hands on the carpet like that. Are you. On the carpet, your hands are on it?
Sep 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing--so incredibly underrated. Raw, real, and painful. These prose pieces stick with you and eat at you throughout the day--they never leave the reader. The title piece is incredible, reads so easy. I devoured this book and wanted more the second I closed it. Absolutely recommend--leaves you feeling changed yet the same.
Jan 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Love her writing.
Lee Foust
I've been reading and worshiping Ms. Davis' translations of Maurice Blanchot since my college days in the 1980s and, weirdly to me, have only just recently discovered that she has been, since about that same time (1986) been working herself to redefine and/or expand the possibilities of the short story form with a series of critically well-received collections. Perfect timing, in a sense, as I am currently writing a novel in frames, a system of linked short narratives and I, too, want to both wr ...more
May 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Certainly inventive. These are stories like no others. They are quick glimpses of life, an individual's thoughts and relationships. They tend to start nowhere in particular, and stop rather than end. Davis shows a wide range in one sense, since the stories range from a hyper-detailed view of everyday life to occasional ventures into the absurd. There is an unusual mix of strong emotions with the utter banality of life for the character who has them.

I liked the creativity and readability of these
Jun 26, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A few of these stories stood out as stronger than the others and genuinely interesting. I think this collection and Davis' work was influential in other flash fiction collections and a style of exploring neuroses.

However, I found myself kind of bored after reading a few in a row. Even then, I think the stories I liked would have bumped this up to a three, if not for the fact that Davis was sprinkling in marginalized people as shortcuts for adding flavor/depth in her story
- In the first story,
Aug 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If I'm being honest I would give this collection of short stories a rating between 4 and 5 stars because, well, not all of the stories were AMAZING. In fact, a few towards the middle of the book were uneventful, and not in the type of way that holds any depth or meaning. They just seemed pointless. BUT...there were a bunch of other stories that walked up to my rib cage, knocked twice, then passed the ivory gates only to settle down in the deepest crevices, crevices that I knew existed but didn't ...more
Rob Findlay
Apr 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Picked this up for a local Twitter book club, glad I did as this is not normally the kind of stuff I would read.

The writer has a very different voice than most of the 1st person narratives I tend to read so it took some adjusting. That said, her writing style is just incredible

The stories themselves--all rather short--where interesting in different ways. Davis' voice is very insular and cathartic one moment and then stand-offish and stoic the next.

The first short-story, called "Story" interes
Feb 08, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The structural features of these short stories, their eschewing of New Yorker formalism, hasn't aged particularly well. They aren't bad, they just no longer stand out. Not only have other writers aped it, but bloggers unknowingly echo this informal-narration-as-story approach regularly. Despite this loss of wow factor, Davis is a talented writer and many of these stories drew me in on other merits.

There is an irony that her strongest talent is an ability to seamlessly manipulate time in a story
Mar 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Love me some Lydia. This book is a little less controlled, a little messier and more emotionally raw than Varieties of Disturbance (at least the way I remember it), which isn't a bad thing. The only problem with this book, and I guess with any of LD's books, is that the voice continues on in your head, narrating all the minutiae of your boring-ass life.
Oct 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2012
Yes, no, yes, no, yes, no. . . can't decide. The way these characters muse on their lives is probably very true to life for most of us. But it wasn't exactly enjoyable reading. I best liked the story called "French Lesson I: Le Meurtre." Not much taken with the title story, "Break It Down."

[Update:] Until I heard it read by James Salter on The Guardian Podcast. Now I'm in love with it.
Diane Webber-thrush
I just finished "Break It Down" in the collected stories and I am hooked. I can't believe I hadn't heard of Lydia Davis before. So happy to have this reco from the Barnard In Washington book club. I might actually make it to my first book club meeting (it's set for September).
I really liked maybe three stories, sorta liked maybe 5 more, and was indifferent or left cold by the other 20+.
Meg Pokrass
Jan 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lydia Davis is a genius, and this can be read over and over and over and never gotten tired of.
Jun 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This is my favorite collection of short stories, by far. Davis impeccably enumerates the multitude of data that exists in all of our everyday interactions and gives a beautiful look into her character's minds as they try to quantify the qualitative parts of our existence.

My favorite story is the namesake, about a man who tries to break down the financial cost of a lost love. By trying to attach a dollar value to something so ephemeral, he shows how much of lust and love is an experience one fee
Nov 15, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
How to break down into words what all that love has meant? In sums, with detachment, with cold rationality, perhaps. In this short story a man ponders and recollects his love for a woman whom the reader doesn’t know. There is no explanation of where she came from, where she went, nor how they fell in love – let alone why they broke it off. It oozes sex without being explicit, entangling the reader in an erotic tale that differs from many, a tale of suggestion. The narrator may appear as carnal a ...more
Rishav Agarwal
Nov 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Break it down is a collection of short stories. Each story is no more than 3 pages and there is not much story there either. However, Davis' keen and unflinching observations about loneliness in and after dysfunctional relationships is relatable at some level and the self consciousness that haunts her characters remind us of our own anxieties and eccentricities.

Top 5 stories in no particular order:
Break it down
Extracts from a life
The House Plans
French Lesson 1
Sketches for a life of Wassilly
May 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a unique little collection! Some stories were succinct and perfectly content to be exactly as they were (City Employment), others incredibly introspective (The Sock), and others, quite possibly, may leave me reeling forever (Break It Down). I can't say I fell in love with every single piece in the book, but I am exceedingly intrigued by Davis' ability to write so extensively, so skillfully, and so economically all at the same time.
Brian Kovesci
Jan 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
I enjoy how different every story is. Most authors tend to have a voice from which they don’t depart, but this is a dynamic collection of themes, scenes, people, events and places that don’t appear to be written by one person.

Mr. Burdoff’s Visit to Germany - A literary short story through the lens of Wes Anderson
Mildred and the Oboe - Mildred masturbates with an oboe; gold
In a House Besieged - <3
Five Signs of Disturbance - the last two paragraphs are bleak perfection
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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
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“The fact that he does not tell me the truth all the time makes me not sure of his truth at certain times, and then I work to figure out for myself if what he is telling me is the truth or not, and sometimes I can figure out that it's not the truth and sometimes I don't know and never know, and sometimes just because he says it to me over and over again I am convinced it is the truth because I don't believe he would repeat a lie so often. Maybe the truth does not matter, but I want to know it if only so that I can come to some conclusions about such questions as: whether he is angry at me or not; if he is, then how angry; whether he still loves her or not; if he does, then how much; whether he loves me or not; how much; how capable he is of deceiving me in the act and after the act in the telling.” 33 likes
“She was thinking how it was the unfinished business. This was why she could not sleep. She could not say the day was over. She had no sense that any day was ever over. Everything was still going on. The business not only not finished but maybe not done well enough.” 12 likes
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