Poetry of the Mundane

Kate Zambreno in Rain Taxi Review of Books:

Davis Varieties of Disturbance: Stories by Lydia Davis:
At a recent unstimulating dinner party, I was perusing my host’s bookshelves and pulled out a copy of Lydia Davis’s Samuel Johnson is indignant, and turned to one of the stories in that collection, “Boring Friends,” which seemed appropriate for such an occasion:

We know only four boring people. The rest of our friends we find very interesting. However, most of the friends we find interesting find us boring: the most interesting find us the most boring. The few who are somewhere in the middle, with whom there is reciprocal interest, we distrust: at any moment, we feel, they may become too interesting for us, or we too interesting for them.

What other contemporary American author writes so well about things often thought but left unsaid, and certainly not written down and framed as literature? In her previous collections as well as her most recent, Varieties of Disturbance, Davis’ domestic surreality reads as if Jane Bowles had been able to liberate her fragments from her multitude of notebooks, a suburban Gertrude Stein choosing as her material the thoughts of the wives Alice B. Toklas sat with, the “some domestic complication in all probability” alluded to but otherwise ignored in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.

The poetry of the everyday, the mundane, is the fabric of Davis’s quietly hysterical worlds; she does not patch together the whole quilt, instead giving us neat little squares with more than occasional threads of brilliance. In these stories she agonizes over interactions between both strangers and intimates, disturbances (to quote the title) both banal and serious, the awkwardness of social rituals, the unspoken hostility between spouses, the uneasy disrepair of a long held friendship, and more — unraveling the meaning of all in graceful spirals.

More here.