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.