I think I might be a day early posting on the Wolves’ August read, The End of the Story by Lydia Davis. But tomorrow evening I have a date with Bookman to chisel up some vinyl flooring in the kitchen. How romantic, eh? If you are looking for romance, do not read The End of the Story. It is essentially about the end of a relationship so go elsewhere for passion and kisses.
I’ve read a few of Davis’s short stories and a couple of her translations and admire her work at both. But her stories are such short microcosmic pieces that I wondered if she could sustain a whole novel. I should not have worried. There was only one thing I didn’t like about the book. Davis gives lots of description about where the character is living during the story but never names a town. I grew up in southern California and from the weather to the plants mentioned I began to suspect it was somewhere along the coast between Los Angles and San Diego. This distracted me throughout the book until almost the very end when I was able to pinpoint that she was living in or near Del Mar because she mentions a roller coaster and a racetrack. Del Mar is home to a horse racing track and, on the same grounds, the San Diego County fair. But by the time the final clue dropped into place, there were only about six pages left of the book. For readers who haven’t spent a little over half their life on the west coast of California, this may not be a distraction.
The rest of the book. Liked it. Lots. While it is about the end of a relationship between the narrator and her boyfriend, Vincent, it is also about the narrator writing the novel of the end of her relationship with Vincent. And because the novel is about the writing of the novel about the end of the relationship, it is not told straight through. We start at the end and hop around through the story of the narrator and Vincent. We circle around a few events a number of times looking at them from different perspectives in time and in different emotional states of the narrator. And we realize, along with the narrator, that we don’t remember things accurately, that we often make up stories about what happened to try to make sense of things, or to make ourselves look or feel better about what happened, or to make excuses for what we said or did. So there ends up being a big question about what is the truth and does it matter, especially when it comes to telling stories?
At times the truth seems to be enough, as long as I compress it and rearrange it a little. At other times it does not seem to be enough, but I’m not willing to invent very much. Most things are kept as they were. Maybe I can’t think what to put in place of the truth. Maybe I just have a poor imagination.
Notice that she admits to rearranging things even when she tells the truth which leads me to wonder, can that really be called truth then?
Davis adds another interesting layer by making the narrator a translator and a teacher. Are we to imagine that the narrator is Davis and this is a story about a relationship she really had? I’m pretty sure the narrator is not Davis, but the reader has to consider it however briefly. But what about the metafictional bits? When the narrator mentions trying to figure out what order to write the events of the novel in, is that just the narrator or is that Davis really asking the question?
Truth also comes into play in the relationship between the narrator and Vincent as they sometimes lie. And sometimes the narrator doesn’t even tell herself the truth. So many questions come up but no answers.
The novel is written in a simple, straightforward style. There are no chapters per se, but more like bite size pieces to chew on. The reading is fairly quick and easy but that doesn’t mean the book is lightweight. It only means that the language doesn’t get in the way of the story.
And now I find that even though I would like to say a little more, my brainpower has run out and this will have to do.