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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Break It Down: Meet Lydia Davis

I first discovered Lydia Davis in a sleight of chance - a very fortunate one.
It was in Oslo, a few years ago, when the days were growing short and the hours of energy left in me grew even shorter. It was in an anthology I picked out from the shelf because of its title: Let's Call The Whole Thing Off, Love Quarrels.
And that was all it took. I read her story and I laughed a big hearty laugh. It was just a tiny story, no more than a paragraph, but there was depth and rhythm and, as it often happens in her prose, a profoundness that stands out not despite but because of the conciseness.
I thus went on and looked out for more.

And so it happened that those laughs turned into a heavy heart when I read her story "Break It Down". Perhaps it was the sadness, perhaps the feeling of immense loss in the narrator's voice, the longing that grows like a shadow, boundless, and that it suddenly becomes overwhelming.
But there is also tenderness in his voice. A tenderness that makes you think there used to be happiness in his heart; that he lived moments that will never be erased from his mind. It makes you even jealous. And how could you not when you read phrases like this:

"And no matter how long you crawl over each other it won't be enough...and you look over at her face and can't believe how you got there, and how lucky, and it's still all a surprise. And it never stops."

I met Lydia Davis in March, at the Passaporta Literary Festival in Brussels.We talked about other writers as influences - her life changed after reading Russell Edson's work, mine after James Salter's. And at the end of our conversation she said to me: "Just keep on writing. Don't you worry about the rest. It will come."

Not surprisingly, only a few months later after we talked, she was given the International Man Booker Prize.
Congratulations, Lydia Davis.

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