In a positive review, the Los Angeles Times grants that some of Davis’ work can be “willfully emotionless.” There is something stifling to me about her lack of dialogue, and the way her narrators’ inner monologues can come off as the stunted, circular musings of the socially disordered, as in this sentence from the very first story collected here, called “Story”:
The fact that he does not tell me the truth all the time makes me not sure of his truth at certain times, and then I work to figure out for myself if what he is telling me is the truth or not, and sometimes I can figure out that it’s not the truth and sometimes I don’t know and never know, and sometimes just because he says it to me over and over again I am convinced it is the truth because I don’t believe he would repeat a lie so often.
And the very short stories peppered throughout are almost never more than semi-clever punch lines or undergraduate-flavored head-scratchers. The entirety of “Example of the Continuing Past Tense in a Hotel Room”:
Your housekeeper has been Shelly.
And the entirety of “Suddenly Afraid”:
because she couldn’t write the name of what she was: a wa wam owm owamn womn
But when on top of her game, Davis can be riveting. The Village Voice says you don’t read her for traditional epiphanies, “You read Lydia Davis to watch a writer patiently divide the space between epiphany and actual human beings by first halves, then quarters, then eighths, and then sixteenths, into infinity.” And that “Davis is more likeable than the forensic technician she’s so often pegged as.”
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 752 pages, $30.00