Lydia Davis’s inimitable decision process

Cover00Christine Smallwood at Bookforum:

Davis is the author of a novel and five volumes of short stories, some of which are as long as fifty pages and some of which are no more than a phrase. (It’s the latter that have attracted the most interest.) She doesn’t do narrative scenes at any length, and her “characters” are often just pronouns involved in an action or caught up in a memory. She’s like a monochrome painter; she makes the impossible look easy. The title story of her latest collection, Can’t and Won’t, goes as follows:

I was recently denied a writing prize because, they said, I was lazy. What they meant by lazy was that I used too many contractions: for instance, I would not write out in full the words cannot and will not, but instead contracted them to say can’t and won’t.

Two sentences that begin at laziness and end with will: Writing, like life, is a series of choices. Which word here, there; when to stop? Like Proust, whom she has translated, Davis writes the act of writing itself. I don’t just mean that her narrators tend to be teachers or authors, though that’s true; I mean that her stories are filled with moments of crisis about how to carry on, or what word to put down next, and fears that it could all mean nothing in the end. She’s a theorist of the arbitrary. The fact that she makes it look so easy—so arbitrary, even—is part of the fun

more here.