Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

"Varieties of disturbance: stories" by Lydia Davis (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007)

"Grammar Question" is a 2 page essay addressing issues like whether "his body" or "the body" is appropriate for a dead person. "We Miss You: A Study of Get-Well Letters from a Class of Fourth-Graders" is 24 pages long, with a "Sentence Structures" section where sentence length and complexity are studied, and a conclusion entitled "The Daily Lives of the Children, Their Awareness of Space and Time, and Their Characters and States of Mind" - readers need to infer emotional content from the linguistic and sociological data. Having acquired a taste for the style, readers will be ready for "Helen and Vi: A Study in Health and Vitality" - 40 pages long with sections entitled "Pets and Other Animals", "Personality", "Conclusion", etc.

There's comedy, though it's dry. ``How It Is Done'' begins "There is a description in a child's science book of the act of love that makes it all quite clear and helps when one begins to forget". After 8 lines of physical description it ends with "nowadays many people make love, it says, who do not love each other, or even have any affection for each other, and whether or not this is a good thing we do not yet know". Is this praising science's objectivity or mocking its passivity? "Passing Wind" and "The Way to Perfection" (about turds) are equally informative and tonally non-committal.

Other reviews

  • Siddharta Deb (New York Times) (She wants us to engage in a minute scrutiny of language, to pay attention to the valence of words and the logic of syntax for what they reveal of character, interiority and story ... In “The Walk,” probably the finest story in the collection, a female translator of Proust meets a male critic at a conference in Oxford. ... Her belief that language is both the subject and the medium of fiction has not led her, as we might expect, into solipsistic echo chambers, but into new worlds.)
  • Michael Miller (The Believer) Her stories are also deeply funny, though not in a willful way. Eschewing one-liners, Davis creates humor by making distressing topics collide with matter-of-fact, vaguely fascinated tones
  • Kirkus Reviews

No comments:

Post a Comment