Lydia Davis

Published:  12:00 AM, 09 February 2017

Flash fiction individualized


Lydia Davis, an American author, principally known for her striking and rather exceptional short stories in terms of their structure and traits of flash fiction, won the Man Booker Prize 2013 for her outstanding literary creations. The jurists on the Man Booker Prize panel are reported to have said that, by awarding this prize to Lydia Davis, they intended to celebrate the achievement of fiction on the global stage and they also referred to Lydia Davis as an innovative and influential writer.

Flash fiction stands for short stories with unusual short length. The word "flash" refers to the abruptness of the style of the stories. Minimum words, maximum thoughts-this is the bottom line for authors working on flash fiction. To look at flash fiction from a classical point of view, it reminds us of Aesop's Fables which is a compilation of brief moralistic stories characterizing humans, birds and wild animals with an ethical message at the end. In this way, Lydia Davis's flash fiction bridges up postmodernism with literature from the classical era.

Lydia Davis is best known for her stories which are in most cases much shorter than the usual length of short stories by most of the other authors. Even some of her short stories run for just two or three pages or remain confined within just one page. With this unconventional form of short stories, Lydia Davis seems to have redefined and idealized brevity. It reminds us of William Shakespeare who once said, "Brevity is the soul of wit."

Lydia Davis writes with a particular vigilance that doesn't miss the briefest details of things she writes about even though she writes in a very concise form. She envisions human desires, motives and illusions in a very keen and penetrative way in her stories. Her celebrated short stories include Samuel Johnson Is Indignant, Almost No Memory and Break It Down.

Lydia Davis herself believes that she is glad to stick with the narrative strategy she applies in her writings. Unfolding strong emotions and feelings in a terse and trimmed way is an individualized literary style of her own. According to her, when she first started writing, she didn't care much about what she would write and gradually her characters, tales and plots evolved. In this connection we can refer to Isabel Allende, a Chilean author born in Peru, whose stories, as she revealed in an interview several years back on a satellite channel, developed out of a line of thinking that was not so serious. However, Isabel Allende's stories are very famous in Latin America and in other continents as well. Probably, a similar trait can be traced in stories by Lydia Davis too, who remained more or less carefree while writing most of her stories that later on became highly renowned, but a profound dive into people's psychology and a sharp observation of events taking place across the society are this author's extraordinary features.

Lydia Davis, by making her stories unusually short, actually intends to impart a special liberty to the readers who can go beyond the last line of the story and figure out the message the author wanted to convey from different angles of vision, which some analysts may interpret as a postmodern approach to flash fiction.

In broad terms, most of the short stories by writers from different parts of the world end with a note of inconclusiveness. A space is left for the readers to imagine what might happen next and this is how versatile authors involve their readers in the mainstream of their tales. In this context, we can look back on Anton Chekhov's Ward Number Six, Guy De Maupassant's The Necklace or Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart. All these short stories end at such a point from where a reader can choose different tracks to reach a probable conclusion. It's an author's ploy to make his or her story hang over his or her readers' minds for a long time. The readers keep on contemplating over the characters they came to know, the dialogues they perused, the events they found in the story and this sense of wonder impels the readers to go through some more stories by their favorite writers.

The achievement of Lydia Davis will certainly work as an inspiration for budding authors who seek to embellish their descriptive style with a dash of individualism, who want to think out of the box and don't want to jump on the band wagon of hackneyed, conventional modes of writing. It would be obviously a great pleasure for literature-lovers to explore the fictional depth of Lydia Davis by reading her lovely stories. On top of writing flash fiction, Lydia Davis is also well-known for her translations of some French classical works which include Marcel Proust's Swann's Way and Gustave Flaubert's novel Madame Bovary.


The writer is a literary analyst for The Asian Age

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