I opened this expecting very little, expecting nothing, but the first story was amazing. It was charming and self-aware and just ridiculous enough that all of a sudden I was expecting everything. But, alas, that’s not what I was given.
The stories are all good enough, well written and sort of delightfully ordinary, but not compelling enough to stick around for 400 pages. He revisits the characters from the first story in two other stories in the book, which only serves to acknowledge that they were his best work.
“Being Anna’s boyfriend was like training to be a Navy SEAL while working full-time in an Amazon fulfillment center in the Oklahoma Panhandle in tornado season. Something was going on every moment of every day. My 2:30 naps were a thing of the past.”
This was the first book Caleb ever bought me and how I confirmed that he was marriage material. It kind of leaves me at a loss; these stories take the lid off a world a lot of us would never see. They left me longing for her voice in everything I’ve read since. So I don’t overstay my welcome, I’ll leave you with Lydia Davis’s words about this collection.
“I have always had faith that the best writers will rise to the top, like cream, sooner or later, and will become exactly as well-known as they should be–their work talked about, quoted, taught, performed, filmed, set to music, anthologized. Perhaps, with the present collection, Lucia Berlin will begin to gain the attention she deserves.”
“Whenever Ter read a book, rarely—he would rip each page off and throw it away. I would come home, to where the windows were always open or broken and the whole room would be swirling with pages, like Safeway lot pigeons.”
I would probably adopt this book as a political manifesto, but maybe I shouldn’t talk about that in my new, impartial, internet space.
“But I have to say this in defense of humankind: In no matter what era in history, including the Garden of Eden, everybody just got here. And, except for the Garden of Eden, there were already all these games going on that could make you act crazy, even if you weren’t crazy to begin with. Some of the crazymaking games going on today are love and hate, liberalism and conservatism, automobiles and credit cards, golf, and girls’ basketball.”
I read this after watching the movie (like the rest of the liberal female population aged 17-27.) It reads as Elio’s stream-of-consciousness, the diary of a teenage boy, which is as painful as you might assume.
But it is all worth it for the end, which has the power to erase all doubt you have about the book, the movie, and potentially even yourself.
“We’ll speak about two young men who found much happiness for a few weeks and lived the remainder of their lives dipping cotton swabs into that bowl of happiness, fearing they’d use it up, without daring to drink more than a thimbleful on ritual anniversaries.”
“There are also men in the world. Sometimes we forget, and think there are only women—endless hills and plains of unresisting women. We make little jokes and comfort each other and our lives pass quickly. But every now and them, it is true, a man rises unexpectedly in our midst like a pine tree, and looks savagely at us, and sends us hobbling away in great floods to hide in the caves and gullies until he is gone.”
Not only did Lydia Davis basically invent a new genre of fiction, “flash fiction,” she’s also an acclaimed French translator. Like, Madame Bovary and Swann’s Way level acclaimed. Just thinking about her also existing in the world is enough to fill a morning.
These stories stop me cold and then pick me up again. I’ve drawn stars on the corners of all my favorites so whenever I’m sad or uninspired or lost I can just flip straight to them. They make everyday life seem so striking that it’s hard to imagine we’re just living it without event.
When I first discovered entire books of essays existed with Sloane Crosley’s I Was Told There’d Be Cake during Spring Break my junior year of college (it really took me that long), it felt like a miracle. It was like blogs in a book. It was the kind of writing I wanted to do, written by the kind of authors I wanted to befriend. I read nothing but essays for about a year. But the thing about essays is that they have to be good. They either have to be very informative, very poignant, or very very funny, and either way they have to be so well written that you don’t feel like you’re wasting your time. They have to fight to prove themselves in a way that novels and traditional non-fiction get a pass on.
All that to say, this one lost the war. The first essay was electric, about her and her best friend growing up in Florida, and I wanted the rest of them to follow suit, but they were too long, too detailed. They were interesting enough topics, but she couldn’t get back to the humanity of the first essay. And it wasn’t really that much about Florida. I really wanted it to be more about Florida.