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Varieties of Disturbance: Storiesby Lydia Davis
In all of her collections, Davis's taut, straightforward prose has a tendency to hit you with a thud. But the impact is lasting. Stories that at first seem surface-level — sometimes overly logical, other times coy — gradually reveal themselves to be much more. In Varieties of Disturbance, her fourth collection, Davis ventures into even more experimental territory, with exquisite results.
Synopses & Reviews
Lydia Davis has been called “one of the quiet giants in the world of American fiction” (Los Angeles Times), “an American virtuoso of the short story form” (Salon), an innovator who attempts “to remake the model of the modern short story” (The New York Times Book Review). Her admirers include Grace Paley, Jonathan Franzen, and Zadie Smith; as Time magazine observed, her stories are “moving . . . and somehow inevitable, as if she has written what we were all on the verge of thinking.”
In Varieties of Disturbance, her fourth collection, Davis extends her reach as never before in stories that take every form from sociological studies to concise poems. Her subjects include the five senses, fourth-graders, good taste, and tropical storms. She offers a reinterpretation of insomnia and re-creates the ordeals of Kafka in the kitchen. She questions the lengths to which one should go to save the life of a caterpillar, proposes a clear account of the sexual act, rides the bus, probes the limits of marital fidelity, and unlocks the secret to a long and happy life.
No two of these fictions are alike. And yet in each, Davis rearranges our view of the world by looking beyond our preconceptions to a bizarre truth, a source of delight and surprise.
Varieties of Disturbance is a 2007 National Book Award Finalist for Fiction.
"Davis's spare, always surprising short fiction was most recently collected in Samuel Johnson Is Indignant. In this introspective, more sober culling, Davis touches on favorite themes (mothers, dogs, flies and husbands) and encapsulates, as in 'Insomnia,' everyday life's absurdist binds: 'My body aches so — It must be this heavy bed pressing up against me.' Davis is a noted translator (Swann's Way), and a kind of passion — and bemused suffering — for points of rhetoric produces a delicate beauty in 'Grammar Questions' ('Now, during his time of dying, can I say, 'This is where he lives'?') and 'We Miss You: A Study of Get-Well Letters from a Class of Fourth-Graders,' written to their hospitalized classmate. The longest selection, 'Helen and Vi: A Study in Health and Vitality,' examines the long lives of two elderly women, one white, one black, in terms of background, employment, pets and conversational manner. Most moving may be 'Burning Family Members,' which can be read as a response to the Iraq War: ' 'They' burned her thousands of miles away from here. The 'they' that are starving him here are different.' Davis's work defies categorization and possesses a moving, austere elegance." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"If you have not read Lydia Davis before, it's time to start. Her stories are works of art that will charm you, even as they entice you to take a fresh look at everyday situations." Dallas Morning News
"One of the great pleasures of Davis' work is discovering the many forms a story can take. And how much of the shtick of fiction it can do without: almost all of it. How nice to feel our heartstrings go unplucked. Which is not to say that they do not sound." Los Angeles Times
"Though classic Davis in its economy, logic and wit, it nonetheless reflects a maturing — and sobering — intellect." San Francisco Chronicle
In her fourth collection, Davis extends her reach as never before in stories that take every form from sociological studies to concise poems. No two of these fictions are alike, yet Davis rearranges readers' view of the world by looking beyond preconceptions to reveal a bizarre truth.
About the Author
Lydia Davis's story collections include the Village Voice favorite Samuel Johnson Is Indignant and Almost No Memory, a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year. She is the acclaimed translator of the new Swann's Way. She received a 2003 MacArthur fellowship.
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