Can't and won't

Lydia Davis, 1947-

Book - 2014

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FICTION/Davis, Lydia
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Short stories
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2014.
First edition
Physical Description
289 pages ; 22 cm
Main Author
Lydia Davis, 1947- (-)
  • I. A story of stolen salamis
  • The dog hair
  • Circular story
  • Idea for a sign
  • Bloomington
  • The cook's lesson
  • Awake in the night
  • At the bank: 2
  • The two Davises and the rug
  • Brief incident in short a, long, a and schwa
  • Contingency (vs. necessity) 2: on vacation
  • A story told to me by a friend
  • The bad novel
  • After you left
  • The bodyguard
  • The child
  • The churchyard
  • My sister and the Queen of England
  • The visit to the dentist
  • Letter to a frozen pea manufacturer
  • The cornmeal. II. Two undertakers
  • I ask Mary about her friend, the depressive, and his vacation
  • The magic of the train
  • Eating fish alone
  • Can't and won't
  • Pochet's wife
  • Dinner
  • The dog
  • The grandmother
  • The dreadful Mucamas
  • Reversible story
  • A woman, thirty
  • How I know what I like (six versions)
  • Handel
  • The force of the subliminal
  • Her geography: Alabama
  • The funeral
  • The husband-seekers
  • In the galllery
  • The low sun
  • The landing
  • The language of the Telephone Company
  • The coachman and the worm
  • Letter to a marketing manager. III. The last of the Mohicans
  • Grade two assignment
  • Master
  • An awkward situation
  • Housekeeping observation
  • The execution
  • A note from the paperboy
  • In the train station
  • The moon
  • My footsteps
  • How I read as quickly as possible through my back issues of the TLS
  • Notes during long phone conversation with mother
  • Men
  • Negative emotions
  • I'm pretty comfortable, but I could be a little more comfortable
  • Judgment
  • The chairs
  • My friend's creation
  • The piano
  • The party
  • The cows
  • The exhibition
  • Letter to a peppermint candy company
  • Her geography: Illinois. IV. Odon von Horvath out walking
  • On the train
  • The problem of the vacuum cleaner
  • The seals
  • Learning Medieval history
  • My school friend
  • The piano lesson
  • The schoolchildren in the large building
  • The sentence and the young man
  • THe letter to the foundation
  • The results of one statistical study
  • Revise: 1
  • Short conversation (in airport departure lounge)
  • Revise: 2
  • Left luggage
  • Waiting for takeoff
  • Industry
  • The sky above Los Angeles
  • Two characters in a paragraph
  • Swimming in Egypt
  • The language of things in the house
  • The washerwoman
  • Letter to a hotel manager
  • Her birthday. V. My childhood friend
  • Their poor dog
  • Hello dear
  • Not interested
  • Old woman, old fish
  • Staying at the pharmacist's
  • The song
  • Two former students
  • A small story about a small box of chocolates
  • The woman next to me on the airplane
  • Writing
  • Wrong thank-you in letter
  • The rooster
  • Sitting with my little friend
  • The old soldier
  • Two Sligo lads
  • The woman in red
  • If at the wedding (at the zoo)
  • The gold digger of goldfields
  • The old vacuum cleaner keeps dying on her
  • Flaubert and point of view
  • Family shopping
  • Local obits
  • Letter to the president of the American Biographical Institute, Inc.
  • Nancy Brown will be in town
  • Ph.D.
Review by Booklist Reviews

The title story in Davis' latest collection of nimble and caustic stories, a wry tale about why a writer was denied a prize, is two sentences in length, but, as always with this master of distillation, it conveys volumes. In the wake of The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (2009) and receiving the Man Booker International Prize, Davis presents delectably intriguing and affecting new works shaped by her devotion to language, vigilant observations, literary erudition, and tart humor. A number of strikingly enigmatic stories carry the tag "dream," and they are, in fact, based on dreams dreamed by Davis and her family and friends. Thirteen intricately layered and thorny pieces flagged as "stories from Flaubert" improvise saucily and revealingly on the seminal writer's letters. Elsewhere, Davis tosses together the trivial and the profound in hilarious and plangent tales about painful memories and epic indecision, deftly capturing the mind's perpetual churning and the terrible arbitrariness of life. Then, amid all this fretfulness and angst, a narrator devotes herself to watching three serene cows in a neighboring field. Davis is resplendent. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Davis is a real writer's writer, winner of the 2013 Man Booker International Prize, 2007 National Book Award finalist for the acute and delectable Varieties of Disturbance: Stories, and winner of two French American Foundation Translation prizes. The stories in her fifth collection are terse and observant, including one about a professor flummoxed by the various scenarios offered by a box of varied chocolates. [Page 63]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

The stories in Davis's new collection range from a single sentence to over 20 pages, composed of fragments, observations, correspondences, and traditional narratives. More than a dozen pieces are created from letters by Gustave Flaubert. At times the effect is of a writer experimenting and sharing her notebook. Yet the pieces are often affecting. Most interesting are the epistles, usually sent in the form of a complaint but wandering enough to offer real insight into the author of the missive, as when a woman explains that though she is grateful to receive a grant she is disappointed that it didn't free her from the agony of having to teach writing. Even an extended story that observes the behavior of cows has the power to draw the reader in, as does a list of the words that seem to be said by household appliances. The most moving piece is about the narrator's grief over her sister's death. VERDICT Davis, whose Varieties of Disturbance was a 2007 National Book Award finalist, is inventive and original. Recommended for fans of the short story and of "flash fiction." [See Prepub Alert, 10/21/13.]—Evelyn Beck, Piedmont Technical Coll., Greenwood, SC [Page 86]. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

With her fifth collection, Davis (Break It Down) continues to hone her subtle and distinctive brand of storytelling. These poems, vignettes, thoughts, observations, and stories defy clear categorization; each one is an independent whole, but read together they strike a fine rhythm. Davis circles the same central point in each entry: her characters examine the world with a detached, self-contained logic that seems to represent the process of writing itself. Some of the best pieces in the collection are the shortest, like "Brief Incident in Short a, Long a, and Schwa," which ends: "Ant backtracks fast—straight at cat. Cat, alarmed, backs away. Man, standing, staring, laughs. Ant changes path again. Cat, calm again, watches again." Others dwell longer on their subjects, such as "The Cows," which depicts the movements and relationships of members of a herd, as seen from the window of a countryside home, or the memories of a woman whose older half-sister has recently died in "The Seals." Several stories, set in 19th-century France, begin with "story from Flaubert," and go on to tell of Provençal kitchens, fairs, and executions. There are also disgruntled letters addressed to a frozen pea manufacturer, an Alumni review, and a peppermint candy company. These repetitions give the collection a cadence, and Davis's bulletproof prose sends each story shooting off the page. (Apr.) [Page ]. Copyright 2014 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A fifth collection includes pithy one-liners, exploratory observations, and letters of complaint, including "A Small Story About a Small Box of Chocolates," in which a professor is stymied by her choices.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A fifth collection by the author of the National Book Award finalist, Varieties of Disturbance, includes pithy one-liners, exploratory observations and letters of complaint, including "A Small Story About a Small Box of Chocolates," in which a professor is stymied by her choices. 50,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A new collection of short stories from the woman Rick Moody has called "the best prose stylist in America"Her stories may be literal one-liners: the entirety of "Bloomington" reads, "Now that I have been here for a little while, I can say with confidence that I have never been here before." Or they may be lengthier investigations of the havoc wreaked by the most mundane disruptions to routine: in "A Small Story About a Small Box of Chocolates," a professor receives a gift of thirty-two small chocolates and is paralyzed by the multitude of options she imagines for their consumption. The stories may appear in the form of letters of complaint; they may be extracted from Flaubert's correspondence; or they may be inspired by the author's own dreams, or the dreams of friends. What does not vary throughout Can't and Won't, Lydia Davis's fifth collection of stories, is the power of her finely honed prose. Davis is sharply observant; she is wry or witty or poignant. Above all, she is refreshing. Davis writes with bracing candor and sly humor about the quotidian, revealing the mysterious, the foreign, the alienating, and the pleasurable within the predictable patterns of daily life.