Tag Archives: short story

What you usually call disgusting is my beauty.


Lydia Davis

While I was supposed to be reading Herman Melville’s poetry and Literary Criticism throughout the ages, I received The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis in the mail and I couldn’t read anything else. What the title of this entry suggests is how Lydia Davis turns everything we’ve ever known on its head. Where was she fifteen years ago for my beginning fiction courses? I can’t regret the years I haven’t read Lydia Davis. Let’s just be thankful, right?

I title this entry in reaction to the story: “Cockroaches in Autumn.” She begins:

“On the white painted bolt of a door that is never opened, a thick line of tiny black grains–the dung of cockroaches.”

Not a word wasted, this first line sets theme, character and introduces plot through a fragmented thought.


“I am alert to small moving things, and spin around toward a floating dust mote. I am alert to darker spots against a lighter background, but these are only the roses on my pillowcase.”

This dispassionate assessment of the infiltration and nerves that can set one into an anxiety spiral sheds new light on the subject: herself as an experient. It’s as if she sat down with the thought: I wonder if I can show myself as a removed observer and anxiety ridden at the same time? Mission accomplished.

She ends with the fragment:

“The white autumn light in the afternoon. They sleep behind a child’s drawings on the kitchen wall. I tap each piece of paper and they burst out from the edges of pictures that are already filled with shooting stars, missiles, machine guns, land mines…”

All of these fragments study, at arms length, relationships of sharing our spaces and environment with others, whether they have goals to subsist or to gain insight.

The entire collection asks: what do you know of the world? And the answers are many, layered, not over-thought, on the page at least, and will reside with you for the rest of your life. Thank you, Ms. Davis!






Triangulation drove them all apart.

      I’m stumped.  When I read other greats like Raymond Carver, I can name devices, I can see how he opens the scene with concrete detail, how he develops character through first, the gesture, then the dialogue.  Jumpha Lahiri did it to me too, where I had to physically pull my body out of the story to be able to stand outside and learn.  Ann Packer makes me want to run for the hills.  Why?  I both get too sucked into her characters and I can’t extract myself at all to find out why.  I guess my favorite story from Mendocino, it’s hard to pick, was Hightops.  I know why I love this story.  I love it when an author can take people’s lives in her palm like dice, roll them around and throw them hard against a table.  This story is about the term triangulation.  Also about mooching drifters in all of our lives.  If you haven’t had a mooch, please count yourself lucky (or naïve).

This section is in the beginning of the story.  The mooch?  A perfect name: Winch.  Probably short for Winchester or something like it, but Packer knows we’ll fill in that part in our brains.  (That’s called Gestalt, where there’s inference in everything.)

Winch sits on the porch steps of Luke and Sarah’s apartment.  He has forgotten the key again.  He knows exactly where it is, too–in the little painted bowl Sarah keeps on the coffee table in the living room, where he sleeps.  He put the key there last night because Sarah was trying to get Luke to talk about whether or not there ought to be something in the bowl–whether the bowl would look better with something in it–and Luke would not cooperate.  Winch felt like a peacemaker, donating his key to the cause.  When he saw the key in the bowl, Luke snorted, a sound that Winch finds extremely disagreeable.  He can’t remember Luke ever making it before, but he makes it a lot now.

You see, I still get trapped.  I’m in.  I’m instantly in that living room, hearing the snort, with the bowl and watching the dynamic grow between Sarah and Winch.  It’s not that Packer is merely showing and writing sensually.  It’s also intense story, where she has cut away at any loose detail, anything she was previously married to, she’s omitted and now all you have is that pure connection to motion.  A kismet that ultimately wrecks and releases in pure story arch.

Luke didn’t just snort, but snorted when he saw the key in the bowl.  It’s not wordy or pretty.  It’s merely the physical world reflecting the inner world, that perfect sphere we’re always striving for, right?