Andrea Scrima at The Quarterly Conversation:
Among other things, Lydia Davis is a keen observer of her own mind. Terse sentences delineate some of the most intimate and urgent experiences of inner life, while characters seem to stand for isolated aspects of the self in duress as it tries to put into words the unintelligible stuff of human behavior and emotion. To assemble these voices into a portrait of the author, however, would be to miss the point of Davis’ obsessive logic. Less a collection of individual stories than a precisely crafted architecture, each story leads into the next like rooms in a dream where hidden stairways and secret chambers feel eerily familiar. Whereas Break It Down explores the shock dealt to the mind in the wake of lost love, Almost No Memory converges around our tenuous connection to our past.
“Foucault and Pencil” describes in truncated prose a scene in which the narrator is reading Foucault as she waits to talk to what is presumably a therapist or marriage counselor. The argument she has had with her husband or lover entwines in her mind with an account of the difficulties she experiences in trying to understand the French text:
Short sentences easier to understand than long ones. Certain long ones understandable part by part, but so long, forgot beginning before reaching end. Went back to beginning, understood beginning, read on, and again forgot beginning before reaching end. Read on without going back and without understanding, without remembering, and without learning, pencil idle in hand.