BREAK IT DOWN by Lydia Davis


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Davis' very brief stories are frequently about a quite shaky woman's search for her own outlines. This isn't so unusual a subject in gnomic prose fiction nowadays, but Davis is distinctive in her lack of literary showing-off or meanness: her analyses of consciousness have some of the troubled grace of Calvino's. Here there are extremely short takes--""What She Knew,"" ""The Fish""--that display an engagingly weary fatalism. Some are about ridiculous men--""Mr. Burdoff's Visit to Germany,"" ""Sketches for a Life of Wasilly""--and are eccentric, universally recognizable cameos. There's a light touch with fable (""Once a Very Stupid Man""), an even lighter one with spare realism (""Therapy""--a woman's unadorned yet unclinical record of her psychotherapy experiences, funny and sad). A few things snag on mere whimsy and deflate; too many focus obsessively on a narrator's divorce, ex-husband, and these are too often the same. But one story in particular shows Davis off as a miniaturist not only of psychological tact but of ethereally lovely atmospheres as well. ""The House Plans"" is a hypnotizing story about need and loss of place that's simultaneously familiar-feeling and puzzling abstract--as attractive a piece of abstract prose, full of riddles and longueurs, as W.S. Merwin's great story of 1963, ""Return to the Mountains."" In all: strong, seemingly effortless, and haunting work.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1986
ISBN: 0374531447
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux