At the bookstore the other day I was flipping through the spring Farrar Straus Giroux catalog, a little on edge because seeing the wrong face (enemy/rival/ex) in the FSG catalog can ruin your day, when I was delighted to see, instead, one of my favorite instense bespectacled stares: that of Lydia Davis. I always imagine that in the divorce with Paul Auster I would take her side (though I have nothing against him and know neither of them personally) because though he's been getting lots of attention for years, Davis has been doing wonderful work for just as long and has only recently been getting her due.
But though she's been one of my favorite writers since I read Almost No Memory in 1998, I almost never recommend her to anyone. Maybe for the same reason I don't like to recommend my favorite Vietnamese place to people: if you don't like that kind of thing, you won't like it, no matter how totally great it is.
So what kind of thing is it? Most of her stories are quite short and center on one or more small ideas or observations that are examined coolly and intelligently and with wonderfully restrained humor. Some of them are kind of surreal and some are internal and personal. I like the personal ones best, just as a matter of taste, but they are all of a consistent high quality that is clearly the product of a powerful artistic vision working hard to perfect itself. She's not just goofing around, or trying out the latest clever trope, or even making a political point. She's trying to work something out.
Lydia Davis reminds me how many different ways there are to be a writer, and that the most important part is staying true to your thing, whatever that happens to be.
The new book will be coming out in May and will be called Varieties of Disturbance.