finished reading lydia davis' varieties of disturbance two days ago, really really like it
i don't read many collections of short stories though (interested in reading gaiman's stories: all new tales a year ago)
i think you don't read such book and say that some stories are good, some are bad (although i do have favorites). you read the book as a whole. i mean, we drag through some parts of other books too; there will be inevitably bits that we really enjoy and others that put us to sleep quite effectively. i guess 'some are good and some are bad' is too general a description
it is more evident here in varieties of disturbance. lydia davis' voice is very distinct it floats among other sorts of writing, it's that lovely depth which is achieved through 'deadpan phrases'. that's among other things that make her collection of stories here seem very coherent. i think i like it also because they're not really stories, they are truths. they don't feel like fiction at all. they are what's going on inside the charaters' heads, what happens outside the characters' physiques, and the rest are truths. no surprise and not much twist. they are familiar. they don't try to be anything else; they are presented as what they are and what they have been. for instance, her analyses are written in a perfect format of a standard analysis but such a good eye for detail is what sets them apart; her observation of her fictional characters are very commendable. they wake you up with a gentle pinch of clarity
she mostly writes about modern mothers, children (and mostly toddlers), older bunch of people, mothers, deaths, and household life from various angles
here are some of my favorites
Many people treat their five senses with a certain respect and consideration. They take their eyes to a museum, their nose to a flower show, their hands to a fabric store for the velvet and silk; they surprise their ears with a concert, and excite their mouth with a restaurant meal. But most people make their senses work hard for them day after day: Read me this newspaper! Pay attention, nose, in case the food is burning! Ears! - get together now and listen for a knock at the door! The senses get tired. Sometimes, long before the end, they say: I’m quitting - I’m getting out of this now. And then the person is less prepared to meet the world, and stays at home more, without some of what he needs if he is to go on. If it all quits on him, he is really alone: in the dark, in silence, numb hands, nothing in his mouth, nothing in his nostrils. He asks himself, Did I treat them wrong? Didn’t I show them a good time?
Now, during the time he is dying, can I say, "This is where he lives?"
If someone asks me, "Where does he live?" should I answer, "Well, right now he is not living, he is dying?"
If someone asks me, "Where does he live?" can I say, "He lives in Vernon Hall"? Or should I say, "He is dying in Vernon Hall?"
When he is dead, everything to do with him will be in the past tense. Or rather, the sentence "He is dead" will be in the present tense, and also questions such as "Where are they taking him?" or "Where is he now?"
But then I won't know if the words "he" and "him" are correct, in the present tense. Is he, once he is dead, still "he", and if so, for how long is he still a "he"?
People may say "the body" and then I call it "it". I will not be able to say "the body" in relation to him because to me he is still not something you would call "the body".
People may say " his body", butt that does not seem right either, It is not "his" body because he does not own it, if he is no longer active or capable of owning anything.
I don't know if there is a "he", even though people will say "He is dead." But it does seem correct to say "he is dead." This may be the last time he will still be "he" in the present tense. Or it will not be the last time, because I will also say, "He is lying in the coffin," or "It is lying in its coffin."
I will continue to say "my father" in relation to him, after he dies, but will I say it only in the past tense, or also in the present tense?
He will be put put in a box, not a coffin. Then, when he is in that box, will I say, "That is my father in that box," or "That was my father in that box," or will I say, "That was my father"? Or "Those ashes were my father"? Or "Those ashes are what was my father?"
When I later visit the graveyard, will I point and say, "My father is buried there," or will I say, "My father's ashes are buried there"? But the ashes will not belong to my father, he will not own them. They will be "the ashes that were my father."
In the phrase "he is dying", the words "he is" with the present participle suggest that he is actively doing something. But he is not actively dying. The only thing he is still actively doing is breathing. He looks as if he is breathing on purpose, because he is working hard at it, and frowning slightly. He is working at it, but surely he has no choice. Sometimes his frown deepens for just an instant, as thought something is hurting him, or as thought he is concentrating harder. Even though I can guess that he is frowning because of some pain inside him, or some other change, he still looks as though he is puzzled, or dislikes or disapproves of something. I've seen this expression on his face often in my life, though never before combined with half-opened eyes and this open mouth.
"He is dying" sounds more active than "He will be dead soon." This is probably because of the word "be"--we can "be" something whether we choose to or not. Whether he likes it or not, he "will be" dead soon. he is not eating.
"He is not eating" sounds active, too. But it is not his choice. He is not conscious that he is not eating. He is not conscious at all. But "is not "eating" sounds more correct than "is dying" because of the negative. "Is not seems correct for him, at the moment anyway, because he looks as though he is refusing something, because he is frowning.
This story seems related to "Burning Family Members" on page 129
I really like How It Is Done, Reducing Expenses, We Miss You: A Study of Get-Well Letters from a Class of Fourth-Graders, Mrs. D and Her Maids, Two Types, and The Walk too
I am glad for having read this book