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James Ley on Lydia Davis

In the Sydney Review of Books, James Ley reviews Lydia Davis’ Essays with an eye towards the way it mirrors, rather than breaks with, Davis’ short fictions:

[M]ore significant than any specific literary touchstones or telltale stylistic influences is the thoroughness with which Davis has absorbed that postmodern self-consciousness about language and form. She is a writer for whom the subject of a piece of writing is always, on some level, writing itself. This has only become more evident as time has rolled on. Now that the Zeitgeist has turned on its head and thousand-page cultural satires by white overeducated male American novelists are considered unspeakably gauche, perhaps the most salient feature of Davis’ fiction is how scrupulously it avoids the kind of self-exposure practised by currently fashionable purveyors of personal essays and ‘autofiction’ (which, she quietly points out in Essays, is not a new concept or even a new term). Whatever sentiments her stories contain — and many of them do deal with emotionally charged material — they are careful to establish an element of formal distance. Their affect is often that of a critical essay or report, and they have frequent recourse to the simplest and most neutral of all literary forms: the list. The concision of Davis’ work is itself a product of her exacting, analytical sensibility.