Oh, dear: On Lydia Davis’ Collected Stories

Lydia Davis book cover Collected Stories

If you’re masochistically inclined, and enjoy soulless stories, lacking heat, heart and blood, then ohhh boy, is this collection for you. Thought not. It’s as if a writer of product manuals, structural engineering reports or business continuity plans decided to turn to fiction, and this book is the result. Yay.

Innumerable times Davis uses the continuous present tense – first person, second and third – but, rather than draw you into the story and character’s viewpoint, you soon end up thinking – again and again – that these stories are purely exercises in technique, in the mechanics of storytelling. A clever mind writing them with a Montblanc fountain pen, to amuse herself while occasionally genteelly sipping a china cup of Earl Grey tea, and a madeleine with tiny finger pointed up. Clever in the same way some people whizz through and complete a daily newspaper crossword and then think no more of it.

Sadly, I can’t think of a single story in this collected edition that made me marvel at the writing either for its virtuosity or for its characters. Depressingly, however, I can think of far too many that irritate for their lack of life and feelings, and absence of any real care or consideration for the albeit rice paper-thin characters.

Probably the most disappointing, irritating, pretentious, insipid, tedious, painful and banal short story collection I’ve ever read by an author so adored by the critics.

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