Shorts

I'M HALFWAY through the Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. I started reading her works about a year ago, returning to them once in a while—after, say, a solitary meal, which was the case this afternoon. And that's the good thing about short stories—they're short, haha—and can be enjoyed for brief periods of time.

Mine is an epub copy; I've been looking for the printed version, but I couldn't find one, except for the tattered copy at National Bookstore along Quezon Avenue.

I was cheering for Lydia Davis and another author, Marilynne Robinson (author of Home and Gilead) to win the Man Booker Prize 2013. They were the only writers I recognized on the list. Lydia Davis won; secretly I was gloating for the "accuracy" of my prediction. To many the Booker Prize isn't such a big deal, but I follow it with much anticipation—but to each his own, I guess. My friends couldn't share my excitement, and their indifference was similar to mine when they were talking about the NBA, to which I don't give a fig.

Lydia Davis has a unique style of writing I hadn't encountered before. She takes some getting used to. Some stories in the collection are made up of only five sentences; others take up many pages. But I agree with the writer Jessica Zafra, who highly recommends her: something really happens.

The House Behind, one of my favorites, starts this way:

We live in the house behind and can't see the street: our back windows face the gray stone of the city wall and our front windows look across the courtyard into the kitchens and bathrooms of the front house. The apartments inside the front house are lofty and comfortable, while ours are cramped and graceless.

The story eventually details a murder of a lovely, rich woman taking out her trash. The murderer, Monsieur Martin, is a "respected married man." The narrator writes, "M. Martin had no real reason to kill her. I can only think that he was maddened by frustration: for years he had wanted to live in the house in front, and it was becoming clear to him that he never would." What follows is a deepening animosity between the rich and the poor. Is it a commentary on social class? Probably, but I really enjoyed the story and wished I lived in Paris.

Another story, Companion, amused me.

We are sitting her together, my digestion and I. I am reading a book and it is working away at the lunch I ate a little while ago.
Davis was talking about me, too—alone in the restaurant, a book at hand. To passersby I must have looked sad and depressed, with no one else to talk to, but the silence and printed words were just what I needed. Blogger Tim Challies wrote, "It is like a party for introverts, where no one has to say a word and there is not a single moment of awkwardness. The silence is beautiful." He was talking about books.

Some stories I don't get at all. But the mental exercise of reading Davis, and her attempts at making sense of things, is worth the while.

Does anyone know where I can find her translation of Marcel Proust's Swann's Way? I've been looking for it at National Bookstore branches but it's nowhere to be found.

Leave a Reply