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Can't and Won't

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  4,435 ratings  ·  635 reviews
Here is 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
Hardcover, 289 pages
Published April 8th 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Halah Butt That's what I assumed too, that the dreams annotation meant that she dreamt it. Or she was at least inspired by a dream, of hers or one she heard.…moreThat's what I assumed too, that the dreams annotation meant that she dreamt it. Or she was at least inspired by a dream, of hers or one she heard.(less)

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Average rating 3.60  · 
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 ·  4,435 ratings  ·  635 reviews

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Mar 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 06, 2014 rated it did not like it
ANSWER: "Can't and Won't"
QUESTION: Will I read another book of "stories" by Lydia Davis?
Jun 17, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: MFA students in creative writing course
Recommended to Mala by: Lydia Davis hype

3 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 Eating Fish Alone, & The dreadful Mucamas, is highly annoying, almost anal...
What passes here for *Stories* are bas
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."
Sara Roberts
Sep 04, 2014 rated it did not like it
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
MJ Nicholls
Jun 05, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ar
C.S. Mize
Sep 23, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: finished-reads
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
Paquita Maria Sanchez
One of my favorites, which I find disturbingly easy to relate to as a person who often engages in solitary, futile lashing out at the heavens sessions:

The old vacuum cleaner keeps dying on her
over and over
until at last the cleaning woman
scares it by yelling:

This book would normally be the type of thing I would love--a bunch of wittle snippies with lots of thoughts conveyed in limited language--but there just weren't many that stuck to my guts. There were very few longer stories, b
Jul 12, 2016 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: John Denver
Shelves: fiction

This is the first I've read of Lydia Davis. Immediately, the first microstory, "A Story of Stolen Salamis," reminded me of Thomas Bernhard's collection "The Voice Imitator," also microstories. It was a pale imitation. "Two Undertakers," one of the better stories, was also reminiscent of Bernhard. (Roland Barthes watches two undertakers have a bite to eat while on the job. Barthes' deceased mother waits outside in one of the hearses.) And it's difficult not to think of Bernhard when reading "Ödön
Julie Ehlers
Apr 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
May 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 18, 2014 rated it it was ok
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 a t ...more
Lisa Lingrell
Jun 23, 2014 rated it did not like it
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.


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:


The Husband
Apr 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
"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.
Apr 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
Sentimental Surrealist
So here's the deal: Lydia Davis writes stories where nothing fucking happens, right? People complain about shades of green on food packaging, hear words in the noises their appliances make (I love that story because that happens to me all the goddamn time, and sometimes my mind hears passages of instrumental music as repeated words, mantra that don't make a lot of sense if you will, like how when I was nine years old I decided a piece of music from Pokemon: Blue contained the words "this is... T ...more
Adam Dalva
Jun 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Rating a teacher's books is silly, but then again so is not giving this five stars. ...more
Janet Berkman
Apr 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-stories
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.
Justin Evans
Oct 08, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
I'm glad Lydia Davis does her thing. I'm unsure we need 280+ pages of it, and I'm starting to get a bit suspicious of people who talk about how she's the best thing since sliced bread. I'm starting to suspect that her work will be seen, in hindsight, as peak MFA writing. But also like reading a blog back when people still wrote blogs. ...more
Feb 20, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Can't and won't recommend Can't and Won't, pretty relieved my library had this and I didn't spend money on it as planned after seeing it mentioned on Durga Chew-Bose's book's blurb.
It's me not you may apply in this case.
Didn't like the choppy writing which seemed like straight from an English textbook for learners of the language, and also didn't like the pointless, pointe-less stories; bar a few exceptions and a few nice sentences.
May 04, 2014 marked it as attempted  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Dec 07, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: short-stories
feel like i wrote better stories in middle school but ok
Dan Plonsey
Sep 24, 2016 rated it liked it
There are many reasons to write stories. For Lydia Davis, I would posit: love of the very sound of words, desire to express things which are most difficult to express, desire to experiment with, or challenge, the traditional forms of short story, and perhaps to redefine (or expand) narrative itself. There are many contemporary writers whose stories are indirect forms of narrative; Davis is one of the most extreme, most interesting, and most successful. She has written many stories which are extr ...more
Katariina Kottonen
My opinion of this book changed as I was reading it: charming at first, the short (and very short) stories ended up not combining in any sort of structure, which is what I had been hoping for before. I had been wondering whether parts of Can't and Won't would form a whole that is greater than their sum, whether there would be echoes of stories within other stories, whether I'd encounter the point of view of a character briefly mentioned earlier. None of that happened. The stories seem to have be ...more
Mar 12, 2014 rated it it was ok
I can’t write a typical review of this collection of short stories.

You probably won’t believe me when I say that most of the stories are only a few sentences or paragraphs long.

I appreciate the quirkiness and experimental form, language, and voice that Lydia Davis brought to these stories (especially when this review took me as long to write as some with hundreds more words) but in the end I can’t say that I loved these stories.

Still, I won’t let my first Lydia Davis book be my last.
Mar 14, 2015 rated it did not like it
Can't and won't finish this book! Gave it 70 pages but moving on....too many books, too little time. ...more
Owen Townend
For a Mann-Booker Prize winner, this read awfully like a writer's personal notebook.

I have never read the works of Davis before but I'm willing to bet she is an author of notable talent. After all, Penguin doesn't just publish anyone. Also they don't often publish collections filled with ideas and half-complete stories.

To me, Can't and Won't is just that: at best linguistically playful, at worst a failed experiment. There aren't many books that feature dreams, disgruntled letters, one-liners and
Rachel Lu
"Oh we writers may think we invent too much—but reality is worse every time!” (68). -Flaubert, Lydia Davis

Can't say that I enjoyed that really long piece about cows walking, but I preferred her longer stories over her flash. My favorite pieces in this collection was Flaubert's letters, so I guess I just like Flaubert then.
Roger Brunyate
Apr 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: stories
Poems, pensées, dreams, fragments from Flaubert, and yes, some pretty good stories

Poems? But this is all prose! True, but with poetic brevity. Lydia Davis is the mistress of compression. The cover of the book is a virtually complete story about her losing an award because she would not write cannot and will not instead of can't and won't. Although the longest of the 121 pieces in the book is 28 pages, the shortest is only 9 words. Leafing through, you are struck by the number of almost-blank pag
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2019 readers? 1 5 Feb 10, 2019 02:14PM  
500 Great Books B...: Can't and Won't - Lydia Davis - Cheryl 1 27 Oct 18, 2014 01:00PM  
Book Keeping: Can't and Won't by Lydia Davis 1 22 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

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