Grammar of Discontent

Lydia Davis matches clarity with an unruly inquisitiveness.
photo: Daniel Auster
Lydia Davis matches clarity with an unruly inquisitiveness.


Samuel Johnson Is Indignant
By Lydia Davis
McSweeney's Press, 201 pp., $16.95
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In these stories, Davis's characters not only offer us new ways to look at the world, but also careful ways to think about other people. Her creations might be selfish, impolite. At first glance, they might not seem like ideal romance material. But they rarely slip entirely into the cheap solipsism found so often in current self-aware fiction. Even as Davis's stories emphasize that interactions between people are—surprise—hard to predict, they keep an eye on how a character's choices might affect someone else. In this sense, Davis's attempts to be accurate go beyond the sentence. Her characters are as concerned with the complications of being good as they are with being verbally correct.

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