Lydia Davis is certainly different, and i can't say i'd read anything quite like this (except in terms of brevity) up until this collection. i can't say i adored it though, or even that i really liked most of what was here. four story collections are combined: Break it down (1986), Almost No Memory (1997), Samuel Johnson is Indignant (2001) and Varieties of Disturbance (2007), and i want to say as a new reader of hers, i probably did her a disservice by reading her in this fashion, in a complete collection, as the stories she writes would be more palatable if i had an Lydia Davis rss feed and was prescribed just one a day. Reading over some reviews when i was about halfway through break it down made it clear to me I didn't stand a chance of appreciating any of her work by plowing through a collection like this, so i stopped reading it for a while, and then came back to it, chipping away at the collection bit by bit. once i did, i'm afraid i didn't enjoy these stories much more than i did initially. while some of it is really poetic and lovely, a lot of it reminded me of algebraic math problems in cadence and structure, or circular, spiral, repetitive constructions like this:
If she had a husband, she would sit out on the lawn with her husband. She hoped she would have a husband by then, Or still have one. She had once had a husband, and she wasn't surprised she had once had one, didn't have one now, and hoped to have one later in life.
- from "What an Old Woman Will Wear", Break it Down
Henry encounters Jack on the street and asks how his weekend with Laura was. Jack says he hasn't spoken to Laura in at least a month. Henry is angry. He thinks Ellen has been lying to him about Laura. Ellen says she has been telling the truth: Laura told her over the phone that Jack was coming for the weekend to her house up there in the country. Henry is still angry, but now he is angry because he thinks Laura was lying to Ellen when she told her Jack was coming up for the weekend. At this point, with embarrassment, Ellen realizes her mistake: more than one Jack is involved here. Laura said only that Jack was coming to visit her for the weekend, and it was not the Jack that Ellen and Henry know but the Jack that only Ellen knows, and only slightly, who was about to arrive at Laura's house in the country.
-from "Jack in the Country", Almost No Memory
i really didn't like the stories like this, and there were a lot of them -- they seem to recur through all of the collections, and i've taken to calling them in my head "typical Lydia Davis". As i glance through the TOC, i find it difficult to remember individual stories by their names, but there are some i really liked, like "The House Plans", "The Cedar Trees", "Mr. Knockly", in the two early collections. i liked "The Furnace" a lot in the third collection but i was most taken by stories in the last collection, Varieties of Disturbance, "Kafka Cooks Dinner" "Television", "Mrs. D and her maids", and especially the experimental beckett echo "Southward Bound, Reads Worstward Ho
i'm giving it three stars** for the selection of stories i liked, and the fact that i'm aware of what a good writer she is, even when i really don't like what she's doing. all of these stories are impeccably crafted, and i'm grateful for her innovation. i'm glad i read Lydia Davis but i think i am done with her, unless somebody shoots me that rss feed.
**okay, i actually can't stick with the three stars because i just really didn't like so many of the other stories. SO MANY. so two stars, as i probably really liked ten percent of the stories here.