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by Lydia Davis

Pub Date: June 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-374-10281-3
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 Soberly eclectic doesn't begin to describe this new assortment of 51 short (often very short) stories from Davis, whose first collection, Break it Down (1986), and novel, The End of the Story (1995), have both received much favorable notice. These disparate tales of quiet desperation range from a long 18th-century travel narrative through the vastness of Russia to views of stultifying small-town life, from a rumination on Glenn Gould to a terse description of marriage as an endless round of bruised feelings and displays of pettiness. ``Lord Royston's Tour'' chronicles the hardships of a diffident traveler as he encounters one difficulty after another on a journey from the Arctic Circle to Asian deserts, surviving many close calls only to perish at sea on his way home. ``Mr. Knockly'' details the pursuit of a strange man by the equally odd narrator, who seeks the reason for the man's despair at her aunt's funeral but never gets the answer: She loses interest, and he is murdered. Other stories also deal with death, including one about a dog that served as part of a house-sitting arrangement (``St. Martin'') and another about a woman stabbed by a neighbor as she takes out her trash (``The House Behind''). But the slow torture of a dying relationship is the theme that Davis returns to most frequently, and in such swift, poignant tales as ``Agreement,'' ``Our Kindness,'' ``The Outing,'' and ``How He Is Often Right,'' a much larger, yet infinitely more intimate, tragedy involving the loss of love takes shape. With tightly circular and traditionally linear narratives well represented, Atkinson offers a stylistic as well as thematic mix. Meanwhile, strong writing and a somber mood combine to make this a probing, quietly compelling series of meditations in story form.