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Can't and Won't by Lydia Davis

Can't and Won't (2014)

by Lydia Davis (Author)

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2071656,585 (3.64)5
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I finished this book a while ago and now remember almost nothing about it for a review. I guess that means I didn't like it too much. ( )
  beckyface | Nov 22, 2015 |
I finished this book a while ago and now remember almost nothing about it for a review. I guess that means I didn't like it too much. ( )
  beckyface | Nov 22, 2015 |
I finished this book a while ago and now remember almost nothing about it for a review. I guess that means I didn't like it too much. ( )
  beckyface | Nov 22, 2015 |
The more than 120 “stories” collected together in Can’t and Won’t range from pieces as short as a dozen words, through a larger set of paragraph-length “dreams” and incidents sourced from Flaubert’s correspondence, to longer pieces typically “letters” to heads of foundations or businesses recounting a recent incident. Atypically for Davis, the majority of these items are not particularly humorous. They tend to be pithy but not necessarily instructive in any sense. The “dreams” are most often banal. And it is only in the longer pieces that Davis’ trademark irony flourishes.

Perhaps surprising, the list of acknowledgements at the end of the book reveals that virtually every piece here has been previously published, often in small literary journals, but also in such esteemed outlets as The Paris Review. That makes one wonder whether publication, individually, would impact a reader’s opinion of many of these literary morsels. Gathered together, perhaps, the weight of any single item may be lost. Or perhaps that’s wishful thinking. For I regret to say that I didn’t find many of the items in this collection particularly illuminating. They are never poorly written. Just a bit dull. Enough so that I found myself wondering more than once, “Why did she bother writing that?” Of course that might be the effect she was hoping for. In which case, this is a brilliant success. But otherwise, probably recommended only for the half dozen or so pieces that do not illicit that questioning response. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Jun 10, 2015 |
I like the conceit of disrupting the structure of the short story - Davis is heavy on details and description (to sometimes a pathological degree), low on action and plot. Some of the most interesting pieces contain just three lines or two paragraphs, which because of the brevity and economy of language become puzzles, to be returned to and re-interpreted, unsolvable. Perhaps as a consequence of the level of detail at this extreme micro level, the narrator is obscured - detached and distant, unknowable. What is the meaning of the letter about the peas? Those short riddle stories, what (or who?) hides behind them? They are always cocooned in the narrator's perspective yet give little away. They feel lonely, transient - glimpses of inner moments, lists, preferences. Perhaps they are the best possible description of isolation and the impossibility of true connection.
( )
  EggButties | Mar 13, 2015 |
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very cute but for my taste a little but too cute
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374118582, Hardcover)

A new collection of short stories from the woman Rick Moody has called “the best prose stylist in America”

Her stories may be literal one-liners: the entirety of “Bloomington” reads, “Now that I have been here for a little while, I can say with confidence that I have never been here before.” Or they may be lengthier investigations of the havoc wreaked by the most mundane disruptions to routine: in “A Small Story About a Small Box of Chocolates,” a professor receives a gift of thirty-two small chocolates and is paralyzed by the multitude of options she imagines for their consumption. The stories may appear in the form of letters of complaint; they may be extracted from Flaubert’s correspondence; or they may be inspired by the author’s own dreams, or the dreams of friends.
     What does not vary throughout Can’t and Won’t, Lydia Davis’s fifth collection of stories, is the power of her finely honed prose. Davis is sharply observant; she is wry or witty or poignant. Above all, she is refreshing. Davis writes with bracing candor and sly humor about the quotidian, revealing the mysterious, the foreign, the alienating, and the pleasurable within the predictable patterns of daily life.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:59 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A fifth collection by the author of the National Book Award finalist, Varieties of Disturbance, includes pithy one-liners, exploratory observations and letters of complaint, including "A Small Story About a Small Box of Chocolates," in which a professor is stymied by her choices.… (more)

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