cover image Varieties of Disturbance: Stories

Varieties of Disturbance: Stories

Lydia Davis, . . Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $13 (219pp) ISBN 978-0-374-28173-1

Davis's spare, always surprising short fiction was most recently collected in Samuel Johnson Is Indignant . In this introspective, more sober culling, Davis touches on favorite themes (mothers, dogs, flies and husbands) and encapsulates, as in "Insomnia," everyday life's absurdist binds: "My body aches so—It must be this heavy bed pressing up against me." Davis is a noted translator (Swann's Way ), and a kind of passion—and bemused suffering—for points of rhetoric produces a delicate beauty in "Grammar Questions" ("Now, during his time of dying, can I say, 'This is where he lives'?") and "We Miss You: A Study of Get-Well Letters from a Class of Fourth-Graders," written to their hospitalized classmate. The longest selection, "Helen and Vi: A Study in Health and Vitality," examines the long lives of two elderly women, one white, one black, in terms of background, employment, pets and conversational manner. Most moving may be "Burning Family Members," which can be read as a response to the Iraq War: " 'They' burned her thousands of miles away from here. The 'they' that are starving him here are different." Davis's work defies categorization and possesses a moving, austere elegance. (May)