The current issue has a review of the new Lydia Davis, Varieties of Disturbance. I'm glad to see this, because Davis is one of our favorite fiction writers ever, and her recent Proust translation pretty much kills every other one on the planet. Ben Marcus, the reviewer, likes the book, and I'm glad; and I'm glad to see Marcus writing about it, because I think Marcus's nonfiction is excellent.
But he says something weird at one point, before quoting a highly restrained passage from one of Davis's stories:
The remarkably bullheaded story "Jane And The Cane" doesn't give an inch toward the acknowledgement of emotion...
B-b-b-but it does, it totally does! Here's part of the passage:
Mother could not find her cane. She had a cane, but she could not find her special cane. Her special cane had a handle that was the head of a dog. Then she remembered: Jane had her cane...Mother called Jane. She told Jane she needed her cane.
See, to me, that is just packed with emotion. I picture the author sitting perfectly still, her hands folded, looking like she's going to explode at any second--Davis is intentionally writing as though she is a very precocious child grappling with feelings too huge to put into words.
Now, granted, I haven't read the whole thing yet--and Marcus does get around to saying that Davis indeed packs her fiction with emotion, in her own way. But the funny thing is, the description Marcus initially offers seems closer, to me, to a description of Marcus's fiction--indeed, his books are so bullheaded I can't get through them.
Are we all doing that? Seeing ourselves in the books we read, and taking writers to task for seeming to be like us? The prospect is depressing. I think maybe I am, anyway--my last couple of book reviews, when they were critical, were critical of things I myself am often guilty of, like excessive jokiness or overly loose structure. I didn't realize this until they were published.
In all fairness, Marcus isn't really taking Davis to task at all--he greatly admires her, as he should. As do I. As should you. And when I read the new book, I'm going to try to avoid seeing my goony mug glaring back from its pages.