Cant and Wont by Lydia DavisHere 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 mundane disruptions to routine: in “A Small Story About a Small Box of Chocolates,” a professor receives a gift of thirty-two small chocolates and is paralyzed by the multitude of options she imagines for their consumption. The stories may appear in the form of letters of complaint; they may be extracted from Flaubert’s correspondence; or they may be inspired by the author’s own dreams, or the dreams of friends.
What does not vary throughout Can’t and Won’t, Lydia Davis’s fifth collection of stories, is the power of her finely honed prose. Davis is sharply observant; she is wry or witty or poignant. Above all, she is refreshing. Davis writes with bracing candor and sly humor about the quotidian, revealing the mysterious, the foreign, the alienating, and the pleasurable within the predictable patterns of daily life.
Fiction and Poetry Reading: Dan Chiasson and Lydia Davis
Independent culture newsletter
A new collection by Lydia Davis is a chance to revel in the possibilities of brevity. Can't and Won't spans pages and features stories; the majority come in at well under a page. Davis deploys many of her usual tropes. There are fictitious or are they? There are arch little commentaries on grammatical oddities. There are single-sentence tales that seem to gather in complexity with each reading.
Can't and Won't is the new collection from Lydia Davis, one of the greatest short story writers alive. With titles like 'A Story of Stolen Salamis', 'Letters to a Frozen Pea Manufacturer', 'A Small Story About a Small Box of Chocolates', and 'Can't and Won't', the stories in this new collection illuminate particular moments in ordinary lives and find in them the humorous, the ironic and the surprising. Above all the stories revel in and grapple with the joys and constraints of language - achieving always the extraordinary, unmatched precision which makes Lydia Davis one of the greatest contemporary writers on the international stage. Praise for Lydia Davis: 'What stories. Precise and piercing, extremely funny. Nearly all are unlike anything you've ever read' Metro 'To read The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis is to be reminded of the grand, echoing mind-chambers created by Sebald or recent Coetzee.
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The stories may appear in the form of letters of complaint; they may be extracted from Flaubert's correspondence; or they may be inspired by the author's own dreams, or the dreams of friends. What does not vary throughout Can't and Won't , Lydia Davis's fifth collection of stories, is the power of her finely honed prose. Davis is sharply observant; she is wry or witty or poignant. Above all, she is refreshing. Davis writes with bracing candor and sly humor about the quotidian, revealing the mysterious, the foreign, the alienating, and the pleasurable within the predictable patterns of daily life.
Lydia davis must be the most quotable fiction writer working today. This says much about her wit and wisdom, but something too about her now-famous pith. Davis's curtest works have a lot in common with poetry: this poised, metaphysical jest about time, death and language owes a debt to its line endings. Yet even at her most poetic Davis is a storyteller, even if her plots unfold with the quiet philosophical precision of a Samuel Beckett "fizzle" or theatrical monologue. In the strangely thrilling anti-drama of "The Two Davises and the Rug", two people called Davis wherever does she get these names? The narrative exalts pedantry to existential levels as the protagonists fret over ideas of ownership, intention, uncertainty, economics, aesthetics and even love in four and half pages.
Too distracted by technology, lack of sleep, or your kids to focus on anything longer than a list? Now that I have been here for a little while, I can say with confidence that I have never been here before. Of course, Davis does not just turn dada doodads into text with grammatical coherence. She produces stories that are inevitably compared to poetry, not only because of their concision and appearance on the page, but because of their obvious care of construction. Davis is perhaps the sparest contemporary fiction writer we have—breathtakingly bold in the limits she imposes on herself. Not only are there no extra adjectives, there are very few adverbs, no extra clauses, no scene-setting, no tiresome realist blather detailing the subway route from Bushwick to Broome Street. There is no roughage in her writing—there is nowhere to hide.