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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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1831264,645 (3.6)4



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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 |
I never read short stories. Well hardly ever. But are these short stories, or entries in a commonplace book? Whatever they are I found them compulsively readable. I will let Ms. Davis complete this very short review ... "Now that I have been here for a little while, I can say with confidence that I have never been here before." [Bloomington, p. 8.] ( )
  peterpobre | Jan 7, 2015 |
Love her style; well-crafted prose. 5 stars if she had something to say. ( )
  TomWaitsTables | Nov 6, 2014 |
Quirky essays, short stories, or whatever. Some only of a sentence or two, others pieces translated from other authors. Odd bus fascinating ( )
  198therese | Sep 21, 2014 |
Read to p. 171.

CAN'T AND WON'T is a collection of dreams, observations, translations, quips, letters, grievances, and a few classical short stories; it's like getting a glimpse of the writer's notebook (or several random files on her computer).

Liked: "The Dog Hair" (p. 4)

From "After You Left": The moon shone on the fields of snow: they looked as smooth as satin. The snow-covered houses looked like little white bears curled up asleep. (25)

From "The Funeral": Oh, we writers think we invent too much - but reality is worse every time! (68)

"Housekeeping Observation"
Under all this dirt
the floor is really very clean. (90)

"Her Geography: Illinois"
She knows she is in Chicago.
But she does not yet realize that she is in Illinois. (139)

From "The Seals": It was not that I thought she was still alive. But at the same time I couldn't believe that she was actually gone. Suddenly the choice wasn't so simple: either alive or not alive. It was as though not being alive did not have to mean she was dead, as though there were some third possibility. (161)
  JennyArch | Sep 12, 2014 |
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For Daniel and Theo
and for Laura and Stephanie
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:01:52 -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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