Going to begin by embracing the collective you: In most books you read there’s probably something, small or large, you don’t morally agree with. But it’s likely you don’t feel the need to distance yourself from it or acknowledge it. I’ve never heard someone say, “read this book, but watch out, they steal something in chapter three and that’s uncool.”
Typically the things that are uncouth, that don’t mesh into polite society or our specific worldview, are described in a sanitized way, and especially when you’re talking about affairs, or desire, or sex in general, they’re often described from a male perspective. This book is different. It’s a little bit shocking, it’s supposed to be. But if you are disgusted by it, you’re sort of proving her right.
But really, this book is about a lot more than that. it’s about women, as people existing in the world. It’s about literature and art. It’s about marriage and affairs, and it’s about desire. It’s one of the books that strung together a lot of broken pieces that were already floating around my brain, and I think pretty much everyone should read it.
“This presumes that there’s something inherently grotesque, unspeakable, about femaleness, desire. But what I’m going through with you is happening for the first time.”
“I want to own everything that happens to me now,’ I told you. ‘Because if the only material we have to work with in America is our own lives, shouldn’t we be making case studies?'”
“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.