#59 – Varieties of Disturbance, by Lydia Davis

I hate to say it (you have no idea how much, I assure you), but I was not particularly impressed by this book. “We Miss You,” the remarkable piece Mr. Beattie wrote about in August was one of the few bright lights for me in this collection. The kind of work that so impressed me in Samuel Johnson is Indignant, the one or two sentence prose-poems, the meditations and koans, often seemed little more than filler here. The longer works, like “Cape Cod Diary” and “Helen and Vi,” length not being one of Davis’ strong points to begin with, seemed to collapse under their own weight like dying stars.

Another story I disliked, and this is most likely due almost exclusively to my own prejudices as a reader, since I find that Diane Schoemperlen has one or two stories that I dislike for similar reasons, was “What You Learn About the Baby.” It has a reasonably clever structure, being divided into obliquely worded experiential categories, and Davis’ prose is as sharp as always, but in essence it’s little more than a bog-standard, mostly-sepia-tinted collection of clichés about motherhood. It could be that, as a regular reader of Canadian fiction, I’ve read more sepia-tinted stories about motherhood than is healthy, but I can’t remember the last time one such story struck me as fresh, or told me anything new, emotionally or otherwise. For those new to Davis’ work, lovely cover aside, I’d skip this book and go straight to Samuel Johnson is Indignant

Next up is Oblivion, by David Foster Wallace.


Writer. Editor. Critic.

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