Friday, July 30, 2010

Lydia Davis, "Varieties of Disturbance: Stories"

The first time I came across Lydia Davis' work was in the Nerve "Naughty Bits" collection. It was a piece called "This Condition," and it's just about the sexiest thing you'll ever read, though my tastes on the matter have been known to be atypical. Since then I read her collections Almost No Memory and Break it Down and now this most recent collection.

Davis is typical and atypical of certain things about contemporary fiction, at least the kinds I'm most fond of. Some of the pieces are one line long, some are typical flash fiction length. She starts with situation, mood, tone. Many aspire to the condition of poetry. They're often hysterical. All the blurbs say there's no plot, but I don't think that's right. Take a piece like "Enlightened." It starts "I don't know if I can remains friends with her." The narrator talks about why: "I believe I am more enlightened now, and certainly more enlightened than she is, although I know it's not very enlightened to say that." I guess there isn't a plot because we don't know the events or conversations that have led to this revelation, but really, does it matter? You could say there isn't plot in the typical epiphanic sense, or you could say there's an epiphany every other line. They're lived in rather than unfolding across time - what it feels like inside a mind.

While I was in Seattle, my friend who is a fan of popular fiction was saying that she likes the commercial because the strengths are in character, plotting. Her husband likes short stories, she said, but she finds them frustrating because you don't get enough time with the characters. She's frustrated, wants more. Her husband and I said that's exactly what we want: to want more. I like to feel like I'm dipping into another world; I don't want or can't buy into that I actually live there. I think about that O'Hara line about not enjoying a blade of grass unless it's near a record store or another sign that people do not regret life - I can't enjoy an event or description unless a mind or some other sign of where this life comes from is near. Otherwise the world is more interesting.

Besides, you can't tell me a piece like "Head, Heart" lacks for one single thing:

Heart weeps.
Head tries to help heart.
Head tells heart how it is, again.
You will lose the ones you love. They will all go. But even the earth will go, someday.
Heart feels better, then.
But the words of head do not remain long in the ears of heart.
Heart is so new to this.
I want them back, says heart.
Head is all heart has.
Help, head. Help heart.

No comments:

Post a Comment