Thursday, June 3, 2010

Samuel Johnson Is Indignant: Stories By Lydia Davis

At a certain point in her life, she realizes it is not so much that she wants to have a child as that she does not want not to have a child, or not to have had a child.

Some weeks back, while the upstate winter was still in full swing, I bundled up and drove over to the University at Albany to hear Lydia Davis give a reading from her most recent collection of short stories. I had never before read any of Davis’ work, but after an hour or so of listening to her material I resolved to remedy this posthaste. I went directly to the library and checked out her celebrated 2002 book Samuel Johnson Is Indignant.

To call Davis’ stories “stories” seems an understatement. Drawing from Proust - she’s translated much of his work – Davis spins out little poems, or rather, tiny vignettes filled with humor, philosophy and even bleak depictions of life, although some are surrealist depictions of what could only be described as dreams. Davis finds that liminal space between poetry and prose and its here that she does her best work. Rarely do her stories spill onto a second page - the title of the book is itself a story - but when they do readers will no doubt greedily flip the page for more.

Davis gives readers an intimate glimpse into her own life in musings like a funeral parlor's letter, one of the best ruminations of the commercialization of death that I have ever read. All in all Samuel Johnson Is Indignant is an engaging book, and while occasionally marred by excessive introspection, readers are sure to enjoy its petite, philo-poetic treats.

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