Lydia Davis’s Can’t and Won’t

by themusingsofabohogirl

Can’t and Won’t
by Lydia Davis
Hamish Hamilton, 289 pp.


I picked up Lydia Davis’s collection of short stories after reading her Paris Review interview. My curiosity had grown after reading her novel, The End of the Story; she wrote the story in fragments and the structure fascinated me. I became immersed in Lydia Davis’s stories, the moments she describes possess a strange beauty. There are stories about dreams, some are just one sentence, and others are described as extracts from Flaubert’s correspondence. It’s one of the most unique collections I’ve read.

Davis’s stories are layered; she captures the mundane or the most ordinary human moments and produces a remarkable story. I found the short-short stories are exceptional, Davis’s use of realism is striking:

People who were more conscientious
as children
lived longer.

From “The Results of One Statistical Study”

There are moving stories that explore what it means to exist in this world and what leaving does to those left behind; “The Seals” and “Local Obits” take very different approaches to mortality. “Local Obits” consists of life summaries that are found in most obituaries, perhaps it’s odd that lives are summed up in one or two sentences: “Stella was known for her love of cats.” There is something interesting about “Local Obits”, whether it’s Davis’s strange humor but I love what she does in this story.

Once she was gone, every memory was suddenly precious, even the bad ones, even the times I was irritated with her, or she was irritated with me. Then it seemed a luxury to be irritated.

“The Seals” is one of her most moving stories and it’s the longest in this book, the narrator’s grief is palpable as she remembers her dead sister. The grief exists in the quiet memory of describing her sister falling asleep in front of the TV, it’s the story that readers will remember months from now; I imagine it’s why many will revisit this collection again and again.