Reveling in brevity
Can’t and Won’t is Lydia Davis’ new book of very short stories. It was recommended to me yesterday when I posted the link to my story, Travel Journal, on Facebook. A dear friend of mine said it reminded him of the NPR story he heard about Lydia Davis. What I’ve read of her work so far is delightful.
From the NPR interview:
On the moment when she realized that she didn’t need to write long to write well
I can date that pretty precisely to the fall of 1973. So I was 26 years old and I had just been reading the short stories or the prose poems of Russell Edson. And for some reason, I was sparked by those. I thought, “These are fun to read, and provocative and interesting, and I’d like to try this.” So I set myself the challenge of writing two very short stories every day just to see what would happen.
I don’t get the impression she sat there wringing her hands saying, “I can’t try this, it’s that other guy’s thing.” You and I shouldn’t either.
On how she knows when to end a story
I think I have a sense right in the beginning of how big an idea it is and how much room it needs, and, almost more importantly, how long it would sustain anybody’s interest. And that’s sometimes been a problem with a story when it’s sort of offered me two ways that it could go, and I have to choose one or the other.
This is interesting to me because Travel Journal started out as something Davis may have considered complete. It sat in my Drafts app for months as:
Ralph bought a pair of fingernail clippers at a convenience store in every city he’d ever visited. He kept them in a low-lit China cabinet on little stands he made himself. None of them had ever been used.
I almost posted it like that, but I wanted to know more as I typed. What’s this guy’s problem? Where is the sweetness, is there room for it? Is he alone?
That wanting to know more felt a little like the idea of excavating the story. Merlin Mann writes about this in Clackity Noise (Merlin likes to get salty, so caveat church lady.).
And the length of a story doesn’t affect its (please in earnest forgive me for this sin against you) “stickiness.” From my friend, Daniel on Travel Journal:
I will also say, the beauty of these (including yours) very short stories is the details that you reflect on later. On my run today, it occurred to me that maybe Ralph literally always forgets the clippers and it’s become the sweet joke between the couple.
I feel emboldened to write more tiny stories, and I hope you do, too. It’s good for you, and it’s free.