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The Power of Lydia Davis

In response to:

Horse Sense & Heartache from the April 29, 2010 issue

To the Editors:

In his review of The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis [NYR, April 29], Dan Chiasson quotes my own earlier review of Davis, but then distorts my assessment—which was meant to illuminate and applaud her stories—into a criticism:

Davis is sometimes regarded as a cold writer, a kind of fictionbot. The novelist Ben Marcus charged her with “a nearly autistic failure to acknowledge the emotional heart of the matter.” He meant it as a kind of compliment, but failure is failure.

Actually, it is not. As I make clear throughout that review, and in other reviews I’ve done of Davis’s books, the uncited feeling looms with great force in her stories. I see it as nothing less than a masterful technique of devastation. I did not mean my remarks as merely a “kind” of compliment, but as a way to describe just what is so powerful, stirring, and original in Lydia Davis’s style.

Ben Marcus
New York City

Dan Chiasson replies:

Ben Marcus is right about Lydia Davis but wrong, I think, to have chosen exactly that phrase to describe what, to my ears, he describes more forcefully in this letter. “Autistics” aren’t usually associated with the sublime displacement of feeling for the sake of all-the-greater “devastation.” If that’s what he meant, he should just have put it another way.

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