Saturday, May 14, 2011

Short short stories....Lydia Davis

I've recently developed an appreciation for the short short story. It's a specific kind of reading pleasure for me: when I'm waiting in line, when I'm on a short subway ride. It doesn't really require deep immersion (unless I'm engrossed in a particularly riveting novel, it's often difficult for me to read longer form fiction while public transporting: in the morning the metro is too crowded and in the evening, I'm worn out), and this shorter form also allows a bit more interaction, it seems to me (read one, think about it for a while, read it again, read a new one, think about the connections between them, etc.).

Lydia Davis is probably one of the more famous practitioners of the short short story. I heard her interviewed about her piece on Glenn Gould's love of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and what it means to us when someone we admire likes something we like and how it enables us to underscore our beliefs in our own judgements. If Glenn Gould likes MTM then clearly we have something in common and maybe I am slightly touched by genius, too. (The other side of the argument we ignore: all the fools who like MTM have nothing in common with me!). Her collection Varieties of Disturbance has some gems. From "Television":

It's partly my isolation at night, the darkness outside, the silence outside, the increasing lateness of the hour, that makes the story on television seem so interesting. But the plot, too, has something to do with it; tonight a son cames back after many years and marries his father's wife. (She's not his mother).

Lydia Davis
It's very simple, but perhaps misleadingly so. Here is how my mind reacts to a short straightforward piece like this: Remember when television seemed the antithesis of an engaged intellectual mind? I am suspicious of writers (or others) who claim to never watch TV: how can one understand what's happening in our culture without at least some interaction with TV? And aren't writers supposed to reflect on our culture? As for me, after reading and thinking about writing and talking to editors or writers all day, I like nothing more than to turn off my brain and watch something mindless that requires little to no critical analysis or deep reflection. Like a chef who orders pizza after working all day long...some plost are universal and even though we've encountered the story countless times (prodigal son, Oedipus, etc.), when translated into modern life, they seem renewed...I wonder if most people are aware of the provenance of a plot such as this one...

Another one, titled "Lonely":

No one is calling me. I can't check the answering machine because I have been here all this time. If I go out, someone may call while I'm out. Then I can check the answering machine when I come back in.

This one is slightly dated, given the fact that many of us don't have "answering machines" anymore. The mere idea seems terribly archaic: that we leave messages that someone may listen to today or tomorrow or later. No, today, we need immediate gratification (if I text someone and they don't answer within 15 minutes, I often start to get worried). Yet the universality of this is still very relevant and who hasn't had a thought like this at some point?

Some are just funny: "Idea for a Short Documentary Film":

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

Others in this collection are quite beautiful, haunting and even moving. Many writers wonder if this form could possibly take off in this hyperly-succinct world we live in though I am less than optimistic about this idea. Still: I do wish that the short story generally would become more relevant to the average guy on the street....maybe short short stories are one route to relevance...?

Varieties of Disturbance

1 comment:

  1. Not entirely related but I'm reading Andy Warhol's Diaries which are mesmerizing. He has some passages about Mary Tyler Moore who at the time was very concerned about her image and didn't want to meet with Andy at a fancy restaurant but instead wanted to meet at a hole in the wall pizza parlor. She was seemingly trying to be like the "average" person. Thought it was funny.

    Will have to check out the Lydia Davis stories!