A Different Sort of Writer

To those of you who think I missed Marcel Proust’s birthday back on Monday, not a bit of it. I was saving him for today, when I wanted to wish happy birthday to Lydia Davis, whom I consider his best translator. Or maybe just his most Tom-friendly translator. For me, she saved Swann’s Way from the purgatory of C. K. Scott Moncrieff/Terence Kilmartin previous translations. She has also done a very well-received translation of Madame Bovary, although I can’t personally vouch for it.

What I really want to talk about today, however, is Davis’s own work. Her metier might be called “flash fiction” or the “short-short” (horrible associations there), but I don’t think any genre quite contains her. She does indeed write very short fiction. Her first volume had stories running from about four to maybe eight pages, but she kept refining her approach, and many of her later stories run less than a page. Sometimes much less. Here is the entirety of “Samuel Johnson Is Indignant:”: “that Scotland has so few trees.” I believe that meets the Hemingway six-word story challenge, although the four-word title might disqualify it. What she has been learning over the decades, and what she has been trying to teach us, is how very much story can be packed into a tiny space. Good lesson, don’t you think? I just wish I could learn it.

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