Adventures in Reading and Writing, Part 11
Sometimes, when writing is going well, I find that everything becomes sentences, sentences are all over the place, it’s good. Since Christmas I’ve had my head down, getting some new pieces finished that I hope to send off to some of the competitions I’ve had my eye on for a while.
Anyway, below I’ve gone on a bit about some short stories that I have read recently and which have had made an impression on me, in the usual style.
LYDIA DAVIS: ‘The Professor’ from The Collected Short Stories Of
I find that Lydia Davis’ short fiction – and some of the pieces are very short – are best taken in ones and twos, which means I will be enjoying her 700 page ‘Collected Short Stories’ for some time yet. Which is a good thing, because I imagine it might take a little while for me to properly figure her out. What makes her such an interesting storyteller is the elements that her stories so often lack – description, characterisation, direct speech, analysis of what is going on. The language she chooses to use is simple, and events are reduced down to movements, thoughts, reported speech.
Without being wordy or obtuse she is still experimental, playful – sometimes she presents situations, domestic disagreements for example, as if they were mathematic formulae, sometimes the story is viewed once-removed and the piece of writing we read is the the author’s meditations on how best to approach the telling. In the context of the whole these stories occupy an interesting place because there is a feeling throughout that the author is never far away from her work, so that the accumulation of short, dense tales is some kind of autobiography or amassed worldview (this is something I wonder about when considering a lot of short story writers).
At eight pages, ‘The Professor’ is actually among the longer pieces I have come across so far (who knows what might await in the next 500-ish pages) but this is the one that really struck a chord with me. It is a story about a professor who aspires to marry a cowboy, though really it is about wanting to change the way she thinks and the way she approaches life.
I even had to think about thinking and wonder why I was thinking it. When I had the idea of marrying a cowboy I imagined that maybe a cowboy would help me stop thinking so much.
To me at least, Lydia Davis has managed to pull off the trick of accurately reflecting the patterns of my own thoughts.
DEBORAH LEVY: ‘Cave Girl’ from Black Vodka
Deborah Levy’s new collection is a wholly different beast, poetic and packed with life. The story that made an impression on me, the one which I read over and over, was ‘Cave Girl,’ a potent slice of magical realism in which the narrator tries to get his head around the fact of his sister changing from ‘stone age girl’ to ‘airy woman’, and his very modern worries.
I sometimes hope that an Ancient will find me shivering in front of the TV eating Kentucky Fried Chicken. He will teach me how to sharpen a flint and I won’t know what to teach him because I don’t know how to make antibiotics.
‘Cave Girl’ plays a little fast and loose with the rules of storytelling, is packed with bright, sparkling, clever images and has all the right words in the right places.
I’m pleased I enjoyed this book so much, since it actually has my name in the back of it. Black Vodka is published by And Other Stories, an enterprising venture that uses funds from subscribers to get the publishing process underway. This ensures an audience for their books, which means they can be more adventurous when picking the stories they wish to print, many of which are translations. One of the main reasons I chose to subscribe was Juan Pablo Villalobos’ brilliant debut ‘Down The Rabbit Hole’, a bizarre novella about the young son of a Colombian drug baron, and his second book, ‘Quesadillas’ is due later this year.
Black Vodka has only recently hit the shops but I’ve had my copy since before Christmas, which gives me the advantage of looking like I’m on the ball for once. Hurrah!