The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5

This welcome collection of Lydia Davis’s short fiction, which gathers stories from four previously published volumes, reveals that her obsessions have remained fairly consistent over the past 30 years: frustrated love, the entanglements of language, the writer engaged in the act of writing. But even when Davis traverses familiar territory, her masterful sentence style and peculiar perceptiveness make each work unmistakably distinct.

Davis is known for her ability to pack big themes into a tight space; many stories here are less than a page, and some consist of only one sentence. The longer pieces frequently find her narrators making much out of the seemingly meager. In “The Bone,” which first appeared in the collection Break It Down, a woman describes in detached detail the night a fishbone was caught in her now ex-husband’s throat. In “The Mice” a narrator feels rejected by the mice that will not come into her kitchen, “as they come into the kitchens of [her] neighbors.”

Davis’s powers of observation are extremely well controlled, but surprise is not to be understated in her work. What seems simple is often complicated by story’s end. In “Priorities,” a writer attempts to organize her day around her son’s nap but soon finds herself paralyzed by her role as a mother. Other pieces synthesize major predicaments such as ruined love, aging, and death into humorously minute analysis: In “Grammar Questions,” a narrator turns to rhetorical comforts on the occasion of her father’s illness: “If someone asks me, 'Where does he live?’ should I say, 'Well, right now he is not living, he is dying?’”

This collection does not demonstrate a progression so much as an accretion, as Davis has exhibited a masterful style since the beginning of her career. Instead, The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis simply serves as testament to a writer who continually pushes the bounds of short fiction, and who brilliantly defies categorization.—Kimberly King Parsons

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FSG, $30.