What I Think I Want; What I Get Instead

Lydia Davis

There’s not really anything more to say about Lydia Davis’s The End of the The Story, but whatever.  My experience of reading this book has been nothing but suprising.

A few weeks ago, I was in Half Price books and I only had about half an hour to choose the perfect book before I went away for an entire weekend.  I was standing in front of the blank books and feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of shelves (and the terrible books I might accidentally choose), when I suddenly remembered that I had a phone.  I texted all my reading/writing friends, asking for suggestions for literary page turners. The payoff was immediate, even though it was the middle of everybody’s workday.

Thanks to friends, I found Jane Smiley’s Duplicate Keys and Gartner’s Darwin’s Bastards: Astounding Tales from Tomorrow.  It was a good weekend for books.  I enjoyed the Smiley book so much that I wanted more.  MORE OF THE SAME.  Lots of stuff is going down in my life outside of books, so I thought I didn’t have the capacity to go deep or wide.  Or long.  I just wanted bad things happening to good characters and no comma splices or sex scenes containing ocean metaphors.

That’s what I was looking for, but that’s not what I got.  Instead, I got The End of the Story, which promised to be a novel about memory and fiction and romance and endings. I’d never read Lydia Davis before – though not for any particular reason.   Her sentences don’t end when they should; they don’t seem to pay attention to expectation.  By all outside standards, the story is too interior, too absorbed.  There’s no dialogue – only memories of conversations that might or might not have happened.  I really don’t understand how the book works, and this shortfall (of my own) makes reading it something like an adventure.

I get distinct pleasure from interesting or particularly lovely sentence structure. I was taken down a few notches by one of my most revered professors the day I tried to explain why recognizing and appreciating the architecture of sentences is such a magnificent and important part of reading, and that reaming remains of my most troubling memories.  I never tire of trying to figure out why some prose is readable, some prose is beautiful, and some prose is neither readable nor beautiful.  I think a lot has to do with how the sentences top each other, and whether they’re building something worth seeing.

I am reminded of MJ Hyland’s This is How, which should be boring, but isn’t.  And Lyn Hejinian, whose prose poetry is confusing and seemingly shapeless – until the end of the piece when the story suddenly descends, envelops, and then disintegrates in any sad attempt to retell. It’s like a dream I once had: real to me; deadly boring to you.

I am reminded of all these other sentences, but I am also pleased at the thought of all those stories of hers out there, waiting to be read.

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