Read Almost No Memory by Lydia Davis Free Online
Book Title: Almost No Memory|
Date of issue: September 8th 2001
ISBN 13: 9780312420550
The author of the book: Lydia Davis
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 3.52 MB
Read full description of the books Almost No Memory:Losing Sleep
A woman wanted the Cubs to win, and thought surely everyone was rooting for them, because they had not won since 1908. But her husband, a White Sox fan, assured her this was not so. This had come up before, but now it distressed her more. Both of them had grown up on the South Side, White Sox territory. She wondered whether she should not root for the Cubs because of this. Maybe they would just lose and she could forget about it.
All right, that’s all the Davis-style fiction you’ll see in this review (except for her own). (view spoiler)[She seems to have no interest in sports as a story topic anyway. (hide spoiler)]
Almost No Memory (AMN, 1997) is the second of the four books of short fiction in The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis – following Break It Down (BID, 1986). (view spoiler)[How is it that Collected Stories begins with Break It Down, when in fact Davis had published other short story collections prior to 1986?
The Thirteenth Woman and Other Stories was published in 1976, Story and Other Stories in 1985. What happened to these collections? I assume that Collected Stories either could not get permission to include these two books, or (more likely) that Davis was not interested in some of these stories becoming part of her collected works of short fiction.
I say “more likely”, because at least the two “title” pieces from these earlier works (view spoiler)[(I have no idea what other stories were in those books) (hide spoiler)] are in fact in this collection: “Story” appears as the first piece in the Break It Down collection, and “The Thirteenth Woman” is the fifth in the collection reviewed here. (hide spoiler)]
How does AMN compare to BID? AMN is longer by 25 pages, and contains almost twenty more stories – so, more of an emphasis on the very short pieces: 20 of the 51 stories fit on a page, and another 16 fit on two pages.
Of the nine longest stories (six or more pages) the most curious is the twenty-five page behemoth Lord Royston’s Tour. In the Acknowledgements on the reverse of the title page of Collected Stories we find, “Lord Royston’s Tour was adapted from The Remains of Viscount Royston: A Memoir of His Life by the Rev. Henry Pepys, London, 1838.” And, indeed, Davis has discussed this several times in different interviews. The “Lord Royston” of the story is Philip Yorke, Viscount Royston (1784-1808). The book Davis’ story is “adapted from” contains correspondence that the young Viscount sent back to his father on a great journey he undertook in 1806, at the age of twenty-two.
Of this story, Davis has said, “Nothing in the story was invented, but I did a lot of rearranging and combining or condensing of his material.” The format is almost that of a tiny novel, since there are about as many set-off headings to material (like chapter titles?) as there are pages. Most of the narrative describes Royston’s journey through Russia: the trials and tribulations (and sometimes pleasant interludes) he experienced. A brief excerpt: To Westeras
In Upsala he visited the Cathedral and found there a man who could speak Latin very fluently. The Rector Magnificus was not at home. He was detained some time in a forest of fir and birch by the axletree breaking. In general, he is annoyed by having to find separate lodgings for himself and his horses in each town.
His Swedish has made the most terrible havoc with the little German he knows.
He understands there is a gloom over the Russian court.
St. Petersburg: Rubbers of Whist
The immense forests of fir strike the imagination at first but then become tedious from their excessive uniformity. He has eaten partridges and a cock of the woods. As he advances in Russian Finland he finds everything getting more and more Russian: the churches begin to be ornamented with gilt domes and the number of persons wearing beards continues to increase. A postmaster addresses him in Latin but in spite of that is not very civil …
He is bored by the society of the people of St. Petersburg, where he plays rubbers of whist without any amusing conversation …On the “tour” Royston must deal with suffocating heat and almost unbearable cold, with sickness, hunger (being at times barely able to eat some of the victuals he can procure), and on occasion the perfidy of people he meets. The longest “chapter” is the last one, a three page recounting of the end: The End of the Tour: Shipwreck.
In what sense of the word is this “story” fictional? I would say that recounting the actual experiences described by Royston by condensing, rearranging, and introducing her own words, would probably qualify as post-modern “fiction”. It is a very interesting, and somewhat ominous, story. And of course, by telling it in the third person, Davis has divorced it from presumably the first person of Royston’s letters.
And at the same time, the narrative doesn't sound like a biographical recounting gleaned from Royston's letters; rather, it has the sound and feel of fiction.
A few comments on some of the other longer stories.
St. Martin. A stark story of a couple caretaking a country house for the better part of a year. They are both trying to write, but must get by on so little money that one wonders how they persevere. (And where is this St. Martin? I got the impression somehow that it was in France, but there are nine or ten different towns/areas in France with this name.)
What Was Interesting. Loved it. Opening line, “It is hard for her to write this story, too, or rather she should say it is hard for her to write it well.”
Glenn Gould. The writer loves watching reruns of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, and comes to have a fixation on Glenn Gould when she learns that he also was a fan.
The story seems to make unstated connections between the odd mental states of Gould and the narrator.
Mr. Knockly. Very dark.
Examples of Confusion. The funniest of the longer ones, arranged in 15 numbered sections of a paragraph or two. Example: 14
I was an unlikely person to invite to this party, and no one is talking to me. I believe the invitation was for someone else.
All day the clock answers my questions about the time very well, and so, wondering what the title of that book was, I look at the face of the clock for an answer.
Because it is almost the end of the day, I think it is almost the end of the week.
That was such a peculiar thing to say to me, I do not believe it was said to me.
I had such trouble finding this place, I believe I did not find it. I am talking to the person I came here to meet, but I believe he is still alone, waiting for me.
The shorter pieces
The only way to really convey what Davis’ very short fiction is like is to quote it, but before I do some of that I’ll try to convey some general information.
First, about half these stories have a first person narrator. In her previous book it was about a third.
Many of the stories are definitely downers. These range from some which are mildly disturbing to a couple which are downright horrifying. There are over a dozen of these stories. Here are some of them, with my brief characterizations.
The Thirteenth Woman disturbing
A Natural Disaster horrifying
The Rape of the Tanuk Women the title says it, though there’s a bit of magical realism
Love almost repulsive
The Fish Tank predatory
The Cedar Trees grim – like a fairy tale
There’s also a set of pieces which could strike some readers as “soft downers”. Realistic pieces on the day-to-day trials and tribulations of two people living together, perhaps wife and husband. This type of story is one of Davis’ favorites it would seem.
A few (or all) of Davis’ words from some of the stories I enjoyed most.
The Other is: She changes this thing in the house to annoy the other, and the other is annoyed and changes it back, and she changes this other thing in the house to annoy the other, and the other is annoyed and changes it back, and then she tells all this the way it happens to some others and they think it is funny, but the other hears it and does not think it is funny, but can’t change it back.
Foucault and Pencil. Hilarious. Begins, “Sat down to read Foucault with pencil in hand. Knocked over glass of water onto waiting-room floor. Put down Foucault and pencil, mopped up water, refilled glass. Sat down to read Foucault with pencil in hand.” Story continues with counselling session about “situation fraught with conflict”; narrator leaves session, goes to subway; instead of reading Foucault thinks about situation, recent argument concerning travel; “argument itself became form of travel, each sentence taking arguers on to next sentence, next sentence on to next, and in the end, arguers were not where they had started, were also tired from traveling and spending so long face-to-face in each other’s company”; after several subway stations narrator stops thinking about argument, takes up Foucault; Foucault in French hard to understand; narrator discovers why some sentences harder to understand than others; many reasons, for example, some long sentences understandable part by part, “but so long, forgot beginning before reaching end; … … … story continues onto a third page, and concludes “Put down Foucault and pencil, took out notebook and made note of what was now at least understood about lack of understanding reading Foucault, looked up at other passengers, thought again about argument, made note of same question about argument as before though with stress on different word.”
On domestic tranquility - DisagreementHe said she was disagreeing with him. She said no, that was not true, he was disagreeing with her. This was about the screen door. That it should not be left open was her idea, because of the flies; his was that it could be left open first thing in the morning, when there were no flies on the deck. Anyway, he said, most of the flies came from other parts of the building: in fact, he was probably letting more of them out than in.
And one of those disturbing, ominous ones - The OutingAn outburst of anger near the road, a refusal to speak on the path, a silence in the pine woods, a silence across the old railroad bridge, an attempt to be friendly in the water, a refusal to end the argument on the flat stones, a cry of anger on the steep bank of dirt, a weeping among the bushes.
I love Davis’ short fictions, or whatever you want to call them. You never put one down in the middle, because by the time you’re at the middle you’re almost at the end. There is always time to read one, and then time to read one more. They’re like small pieces of candy, too small to feel guilty about eating.
But unlike candy, you can consume them over and over; if you do, you find that some that didn’t impress at first reading (probably because you were distracted by a fly or a noise) do come into focus when a couple minutes are available for a re-read.
No, these aren’t stories by Joyce, or Chekhov, Borges or Henry James. But they’re remarkably pleasing, anyway.
Read information about the authorLydia Davis, acclaimed fiction writer and translator, is famous in literary circles for her extremely brief and brilliantly inventive short stories. In fall 2003 she received one of 25 MacArthur Foundation “Genius” awards. In granting the award the MacArthur Foundation praised Davis’s work for showing “how language itself can entertain, how all that what one word says, and leaves unsaid, can hold a reader’s interest. . . . Davis grants readers a glimpse of life’s previously invisible details, revealing new sources of philosophical insights and beauty.” In 2013 She was the winner of the Man Booker International prize.
Davis’s recent collection, “Varieties of Disturbance” (May 2007), was featured on the front cover of the “Los Angeles Times Book Review” and garnered a starred review from “Publishers Weekly.” Her “Samuel Johnson Is Indignant” (2001) was praised by “Elle” magazine for its “Highly intelligent, wildly entertaining stories, bound by visionary, philosophical, comic prose—part Gertrude Stein, part Simone Weil, and pure Lydia Davis.”
Davis is also a celebrated translator of French literature into English. The French government named her a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters for her fiction and her distinguished translations of works by Maurice Blanchot, Pierre Jean Jouve, Michel Butor and others.
Davis recently published a new translation (the first in more than 80 years) of Marcel Proust’s masterpiece, “Swann’s Way” (2003), the first volume of Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time.” A story of childhood and sexual jealousy set in fin de siecle France, “Swann’s Way” is widely regarded as one of the most important literary works of the 20th century.
The “Sunday Telegraph” (London) called the new translation “A triumph [that] will bring this inexhaustible artwork to new audiences throughout the English-speaking world.” Writing for the “Irish Times,” Frank Wynne said, “What soars in this new version is the simplicity of language and fidelity to the cambers of Proust’s prose… Davis’ translation is magnificent, precise.”
Davis’s previous works include “Almost No Memory” (stories, 1997), “The End of the Story” (novel, 1995), “Break It Down” (stories, 1986), “Story and Other Stories” (1983), and “The Thirteenth Woman” (stories, 1976).
Grace Paley wrote of “Almost No Memory” that Lydia Davis is the kind of writer who “makes you say, ‘Oh, at last!’—brains, language, energy, a playfulness with form, and what appears to be a generous nature.” The collection was chosen as one of the “25 Favorite Books of 1997” by the “Voice Literary Supplement” and one of the “100 Best Books of 1997” by the “Los Angeles Times.”
Davis first received serious critical attention for her collection of stories, “Break It Down,” which was selected as a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. The book’s positive critical reception helped Davis win a prestigious Whiting Writer’s Award in 1988.
She is the daughter of Robert Gorham Davis and Hope Hale Davis. From 1974 to 1978 Davis was married to Paul Auster, with whom she has a son, Daniel Auster. Davis is currently married to painter Alan Cote, with whom she has a son, Theo Cote. She is a professor of creative writing at University at Albany, SUNY.
Davis is considered hugely influential by a generation of writers including Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace and Dave Eggers, who once wrote that she "blows the roof off of so many of our assumptions about what constitutes short fiction."
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