SAMUEL JOHNSON IS INDIGNANT

Lydia Davis, Author . McSweeney's $16 (201p) ISBN 978-0-9703355-9-3

To herald a Davis book as "the usual" may sound like faint praise, but the writer's loyal fans know that it is anything but. In this latest collection, Davis (Almost No Memory; The End of the Story) doesn't disappoint: the 56 stories—paragraph-long meditations, stories in sections and humorous one-liners—showcase the wordplay and distillation of meaning that have become her stylistic hallmarks, offering up crisp twists on familiar themes. In "The Meeting," a woman's corporate encounter sparks an internal identity crisis and rant; the childbearing conundrum is nailed in "A Double Negative." Relationships are probed in stories ranging from "Old Mother and the Grouch," with its fancifully imagined characters, to the brief "Finances," which gives voice to the messy issue of domestic equality. There are riffs on mown lawns and the use of the word "cremains" by a funeral parlor, and spooled-out ponderings on domestic priorities, selfishness and boring friends. Communication and language are paramount in Davis's world: an elderly man searches for his brother—a language researcher—in a hostile environment in "In a Northern Country," and a one-sided question-and-answer session in "Jury Duty" is the more revealing for what is omitted. The title story is an example of the author's famous one-liners that provide initial quick humor, then cause the reader to think again. And a longer story about Marie Curie, told in sections, fascinates with its interior imaginings. Eclectic and astute, Davis continues to find new ways to tell us the things we need to know. (Oct.)

Forecast:Davis attracts a cultish core audience, and the low price of this hardcover title should make it an attractive impulse purchase.

Reviewed on: 10/01/2001
Release date: 10/01/2001
Genre: Fiction
Ebook - 224 pages - 978-1-4668-0101-1
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-0-312-42056-7
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