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by Lydia Davis

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-374-14381-7
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 This first novel from prize-winning short-story writer Davis (Break It Down, 1986) wryly turns a failed love affair into a therapeutic literary experiment. Now living on a different coast and with a different man, the narrator, a translator and academic, confesses that the novel she's trying to write is ``about a lost man,'' the man she once loved to the point of obsession. By telling her story she hopes to neutralize the obsession, if not end it. But writing truthfully about their relationship isn't easy. ``The order is difficult,'' she confesses, ``it had been the most difficult thing about this book. Actually, my doubt has been more difficult, but my doubt about the order has been the worst.'' And these preoccupations with the actual writing of the novel complement the problems in the relationship. She met him while living and working in a city on the West coast. He was 12 years younger than she, a poet published in the small presses, and a sometime student pumping gas. She recalls their first meeting, his good looks (which would haunt her long after he left), and the quarrels they had. But her most intense and painful memories are those of the end of the affair, when, unable to accept that it was ending, she waylaid him at work, stalked him, and contrived dates that didn't pan out. She has no illusions about him: He was immature, he borrowed money that he never repaid, he let people down. But, for an obsessed lover, all that is irrelevant. Her futile search for him once he leaves is equally obsessive, and it ends, several years later, with a ceremonial act- -exhausted from walking, she accepts a cup of tea from a stranger- -whose meaning she only understands later. For all the good and clever writing, the story remains a neat idea without much emotional wattage.