Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Beans, potatoes, Bach and Lydia Davis

I'm reading the collected stories of Lydia Davis, as highly recommended by the most discriminating of my American friends. The UK edition from Penguin has just been published and I fell on it. I don't think of myself as a lover of short stories. Whilst I can admire them, I've rarely found in them the absorbing, awe-inspiring pleasure of the best novels. Too short. Too small. My yearning to be overwhelmed and transported by fiction too great. Only Raymond Carver, perhaps, does it for me with his short stories, and his is the voice of someone so damaged that I also find them deeply upsetting. Lydia Davis, though - yes! These exquisite, excruciating stories are crafted enough, intense enough to satisfy.

Surprising in a way that short stories have hitherto failed me, when I so love the notion of multiple small portions, when mezedes or tapas are my ideal meal. I guess I've never found till now the papas bravas, the gigandes of literary cuisine. This is it, though. I'm going to love this, have myself a long, lingering, indulgent feast on this fat volume.

These are all about form. But it's like listening to Bach suites - the form is so fine, the pleasure so visceral, that it takes me to a place that is all about content: heart, gut, emotion and the occasional mental orgasm.

8 comments:

Lucy said...

I know just what you mean, that I feel I should appreciate short stories more, and rather regret my need of more narrative current to keep me going along.

Actually I like hearing short stories read aloud, on the radio for instance.

Anne said...

I used to feel the same about short stories until I started reading the Canadian writer, Alice Munro. I have read so many of her stories now that they have become a bit predictable, but I still think the best of them are quite wonderful, and though short stories don't often transport one into a different world the way a beloved novel can do, still they can have an intense appeal that stays in the memory.

I am going to try Lydia Davis.

earlybird said...

Thanks for this recommendation, Jean. I've read the Guardian article too - she sounds very special. I shall get hold of a copy.

liliannattel said...

I was also going to recommend Alice Munro. She writes a novel in a story form, I don't know how she manages. I'm going to add Lydia Davis to my list.

Beth said...

Oh, good, good for you. I haven't yet finished the volume - it really is fat! - but it's also because reading just one of these gems in an evening if often enough for me. do listen to Christopher Lydon's interview with Lydia Davis, too, in which she talks about Glenn Gould, her Bach obsession, form, and reads some of her work aloud. http://www.radioopensource.org/lydia-davis-miniatures-from-a-mind-on-fire/

Dick said...

My feelings exactly about the short story, Jean, and I've always been aware of missing out. So I'm off to check out Lydia Davis in search of the same small epiphany!

Zhoen said...

During stressful stretches of my life, unable to manage even the fluffiest of novels. short stories have been intellectual sustenance.

Rachel Fox said...

Like the 'mental orgasm'. Having some currently reading a set of 3 long short stories called a novel - Damon Galgut's "In a Strange Room".
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