Lydia Davis

I am currently reading the collected short stories of Lydia Davis

She writes so well, it makes my teeth hurt, although i suspect that this is caused by the jealousy that makes me grind my teeth while i read her work.

William Skidelsky

Lydia Davis is an American short story writer whose work redefines the meaning of brevity. While a few of her stories are of a conventional length, most range from one to three pages, and many are shorter still, occupying as little as a paragraph or a sentence. Here, for example, is one of Davis’s better-known but least voluminous works, “A Double Negative”:

  1. The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis
  2. by Lydia Davis
  3. Buy it from the Guardian bookshop

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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.


And here, from her 2007 collection, Varieties of Disturbance, is “Idea for a Short Documentary Film”:


Representatives of different food product manufacturers try to open their own packaging.


As these examples suggest, Davis’s stories often appear to be little more than snapshots of thought, records of fleeting amusement, bafflement or illumination. Lacking, as they do, much of what we expect from a story – a setting, sustained narrative, characters with names – it’s tempting to doubt whether “story” is even the right word for them. Wouldn’t some other term, such as philosophical reflection or prose poem, be more suitable?

When I ask Davis this – she is speaking from her home in upstate New York – she explains that while she can see why her work attracts a variety of labels, she is happy to stick with “story”. “When I first began writing seriously, I wrote short stories, and that was where I thought I was headed. Then the stories evolved and changed, but it would have become a bother to say every time, ‘I guess what I have just written is a prose poem, or a meditation’, and I would have felt very constrained by trying to label each individual work, so it was simply easier to call everything stories.”


About cathi rae

50ish teacher & aspiring writer and parent of a stroppy teenager and carer for a confused bedlington terrier and a small selection of horses who fail to shar emy dressage ambitions. Interested in contemporary fiction but find myself returning to PG Wodehouse when the chips are down View all posts by cathi rae

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