Can't and Won't

can't and won't cover image Can't and Won't

by Lydia Davis
Short Stories
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Hardcover, 304 pages
$26.00

Speaking of P.D. James, we note that she has quoted E. M. Forster’s famous dictum that,” ‘The king died and then the queen died’ is a story.”  The short stories of Lydia Davis push that point to the hilt. Her new volume Can’t and Won’t takes its title from one of the stories.  We quote it in its entirety: 
 
I was recently denied a writing prize because, they said, I was lazy. What they meant by lazy was that I used too many contractions: for instance, I would not write out in full the words cannot and will not, but instead contracted them to can't and won't.

Huh?  Others are shorter yet. For example, this one entitled Certain Knowledge from Herodotus comes from her earlier volume The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis:

These are the facts about the fish in the Nile:
 
Hmmmmm? So, what is it about her work that has warranted both the 2013 Man Booker International Prize and a MacArthur grant? That she married Paul Auster? That she divorced Paul Auster? Maybe it’s that as Dana Goodyear writes in a recent New Yorker, “…that taken together, her work – cerebral, witty, well-built, homey, homely, sometimes vanishingly small – had heft."  Or maybe as Jonathan Franzen has said, “She is the shorter Proust among us.”