I’ve gone back to reading today, paging through Julian Barnes‘s “The Sense of an Ending,” which was, in my opinion, endlessly frustrating to read, no one character worthy of trusting what he/she said. This hardback volume was one that I had on the shelf, brought home when it first won the Man Booker Prize two years ago. It didn’t really send me then, nor in today’s briefing although I wanted to like it.
But another book called “The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis” did interest me in its smaller handbook size with deckled edges. The stories made me laugh and relieved the frustration I felt trying to decipher Barnes’s so-called “literary novella.” Lydia’s stories made me feel like I could call her by her first name. They were intimate, thank-godfully brief, and above all, humanly funny while being poignant, a hard combo to pull off. I also enjoyed reading about her as well as reading what she had written.
She was born in Northampton, Massachusetts, where I went to school. That seemed like an odd coincidence to me. Her first husband was Paul Auster, a writer who is also a close personal friend of someone I know by association (a friend’s brother) that seemed like a second, odd coincidence. They divorced and she remarried later on. Apparently, she’s been writing her kind of short stories, which feel to me like the word, poesy, for some reason. They are short, poetic and also whimsical. So, poesy seemed like a good description about her writing. She was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2003 which is comforting to know. AND, her collected stories won the Man Booker Prize this year to lots of people’s amazement! At my Truro writing workshop last summer, her name was mentioned and people were so surprised that I was the only one in the class who recognized her name, much less being familiar with her way of writing. My nature leans towards being original in one’s search for creativity. And for sure, her approach and writing are original.
I’ve been feeling hemmed in about writing these days, and this morning, took on writing hundred-word haiku like biographies of people that I know well. I enjoyed it for awhile but was sensitive to the fact that these little biting pieces were probably unmentionable to others, particularly the people I was writing about, including myself. It even felt a little misanthropic, which I felt guilty about for a few minutes, but was relieved to read that people sometimes react in misanthropic ways because they have a sense of naive innocence or high expectations and then are deeply disappointed in how things work out. Boy, is that the story of my life! Naive innocence, high expectations and then, boom!, my feelings or thoughts falling down with a thud. There must be a way to survive these occurrences without becoming cynical or jaded. I guess if one’s naivete or innocence is still operational (at least mine sometimes still is!) you can’t really be a true misanthrope, can you?
The reason I’m writing this post, though, is to share with you one of Lydia Davis’s stories. It’s called “Happiest Moment” and I thought it was so charmingly Davis that I wanted to share it in a post:
If you ask her what is a favorite story she has written, she will hesitate for a long time and then say it may be this story that she read in a book once: an English language teacher in China asked his Chinese student to say what was the happiest moment of his life. The student hesitated for a long time. At last he smiled with embarrassment and said that his wife had once gone to Beijing and eaten duck there, and she often told him about it, and he would have to say the happiest moment of his life was her trip, and the eating of the duck.
I think this story is priceless, don’t you?