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Break It Down Paperback – 16 Sep 2008

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Product details

  • Paperback: 177 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux (16 Sept. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374531447
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374531447
  • Product Dimensions: 16.7 x 1.3 x 21.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 203,787 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Break It Down The thirty-four stories in this seminal collection powerfully display what have become Lydia Davis's trademarks--dexterity, brevity, understatement, and surprise. Although the certainty of her prose suggests a world of almost clinical reason and clarity, her characters show us that life, thought, and language are full of disorder. "Break It Down "is Davis at her best. In the words of Jonathan Fran... Full description

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Paul Bowes TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 14 Sept. 2010
Format: Paperback
This book collects most of Lydia Davis's early stories, including those published before 1986 and now unavailable in their original form. As a result, it contains work written over a period of at least ten years, and gives a good idea of Davis's range.

Davis is known as the one-time partner of the American postmodernist writer Paul Auster: as the translator of Proust; and as an editor of significance. It doesn't seem unfair to suggest that all three aspects of her experience reveal themselves in her fiction. There is the editor's propensity for concision and clarity. There is a certain coolness to the prose, as though the events and emotions of each story are objects being examined through a lens with a view to transcription into a foreign medium that must be handled with care. Finally, there is the postmodernist's self-awareness, consciousness of the role of story, and acceptance of the gnomic, fragmentary and incomplete.

It may appear from this that Davis is a clinical, formalist, academic writer. In fact, she possesses a dry wit, and her close analyses of states of mind - particularly those states that involve confusion, unhappiness, and failure to divine the feelings and motives of others - are far from self-indulgent. Stories that seem autobiographical in origin are balanced by others in which the writer disappears completely behind a persona, or a character whose independent life is offered without overt comment. There is a persistent vein of unease beneath the domesticity and absence of dramatic event.

The thirty-four stories range in length from twelve pages to a mere paragraph. Davis has since made something of a reputation as a 'minimalist' writer. Whether these paragraph-length texts are 'stories' is something of a red herring.
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By d page on 19 Aug. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Read literary reviews in newspapers about this writer, but found the stories rather bland and pointless. Glad I didn't buy the longer book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 9 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
interior of the mind 14 Oct. 2008
By R. Lynne - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Break it down by Lydia Davis is a great book of short stories. I appreciate her bare bones approach to each story. She has little staging and dialogue. The way she introduces many of her characters is through interior thoughts using the character, or an authorial voice as she looks from the outside onto the character. The reader gets a full 360 view of each character in this book. There are many themes in the book, but a general theme is self absorption and how it manifests itself in behaviors and thoughts in each character. This book has alot to do with the hidden anxiety in each of us, that we don't necessairly want to think about or discuss. Good stories to study and break down.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A few things wrong with her 31 May 2013
By H. Schneider - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Lydia Davis won this year's international Man Booker Prize for her work, not for any special book. She is only the fifth awardee after Kadaré, Achebe, Alice Munro, Ph. Roth. Respectable company.
I had never heard of her. Browsing in a book shop with my daughter, I found LD's 'Collected Stories'. Daughter talked me into buying it, with the hardly hidden agenda that I would leave it with her. Good plan. This book from the 1980s is the first one included in the collection.

I am not much into short stories, but these have a special flavor, which worked for me, to some extent and for a while. Some comments say that Davis invented her own literary form with short texts that are somewhere between traditional short story, poem, aphorism, and whatever else. True.

This is hard to categorize. Psychological vignettes, Kafkaesque grotesques, prose poems, absurd little observations, standing alone on a half page or packaged into a longer contemplation. One suspects at times that the texts are like diary entries, of autobiographical nature, but that is always a dangerous assumption.

Let me describe as an example the story 'Some things wrong with me'. The narrator is a divorcee who had a new relationship and expected it to be stable, but then he broke it off with the summarized explanation that some things were wrong with her and he didn't expect the relationship to last. He didn't say what was wrong. Now she wonders. She feels like a car that is doomed to break down on the highway for no special reason.

Or: 'Cockroaches in autumn', a 3 page series of observations on life with this amazing protein machine, the Blattaria.
Or consider 'City employment', which opens thus: All over the city there are old black women who have been employed to call up people at seven in the morning and ask in a muffled voice to speak to Lisa. This provides work for them that they can do at home.

Not a good idea to try and read this like a novel. A few stories per day should be enough. Like a snack between meals. After reading the first book contained in the collection, I needed a break. More maybe another time.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
One to Buy 20 April 2010
By Tina Radi - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Absolutely no word is wasted in Lydia Davis' Break it Down. Her stories are comical, honest, clever and varying.
I simply hate sitting down to a short story collection and reading the same "finding myself" story 20 times over. This bad experience had led to never be much of a short stories person, and yet this I was drawn to. I am glad that I was.
I am a big library-goer, a.k.a. don't want to spend money on books that I will read only once. But this is one that I will head to the bookstore to purchase, to keep on my shelf as a reference book, almost, to brilliant and forthright writing.
I highly recommend picking it up.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Less can be much more than only more 14 Dec. 2010
By A. T. A. Oliveira - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
It has become a cliché to say that less is more, but there is no other expression that best summarizes Lydia Davis's writing. Her stories are, however, way beyond any clichéd idea. They are fresh, perceptive and addictive. She writes as if telling us something personal, something that happened with her - some stories may have an autobiographical touch, especially when told in first person, but nevertheless they don't mean to be really confessional.

She writes both short-short stories and short-long ones and is first among equals in each case. Her shortest stories may be not longer than one line, and even in these cases she is able to bring something meaningful.

In her first collection "Break it down", Davis writes mostly about fractured relationships, about lost love, and people dealing with the changes in their lives. One of the best of them is "The fears of Mrs Orlando", about a woman afraid of leaving her home, and the consequences of that. Actually it is not only about it - this woman's fear works as a metaphor for everybody's fears. Another brilliant one is called "French Lesson I: Le Meurtre". It could be read as a thriller disguised as a French Lesson. The key words, which are taught in this lesson, give away a deeper meaning to the narrative.

First published in 1984, "Break it down" is seen as an assured debut of a mature talent for short fiction. Davis doesn't aim a Chekhovian realism - her helm is another one that sometimes is expressed in only a few words.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Didn't work with me 5 Mar. 2009
By Carlo Turco - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Probably there is something in myself that doesn't respond well to Davis' writing, but this story collection of Lydia Davis has not raised in me anything like the enthusiastic appraisal bestowed on it on both the sides of the Atlantic.
Jonathan Franzen - who is among my most loved authors - has defined Davis "a magician of self-consciousness". Maybe he is quite right. The point is, however - as far as I am concerned - that I've never been an unreserved fan of magicians' tricks: the more amazing they appear, the stronger I feel the necessary presence of the underlying deception.
Of course I wouldn't (and couldn't) deny that Break It Down proves that this writer has an extraordinary mastery of the language and an unusual ability to be a short story innovator. Yet - or, possibly, due to this very reason - most of her stories do not succeed in making me feel totally fascinated by, involved in, or even only deeply absorbed in the narrative.
Most of the time I feel like assisting to some sort of experimenting which calls on my attention in a very deliberate and, though clever, eventually rather artificial way: "now I'll show you what I can do", or "let's see how it works, telling it in this way". Empathy and, more generally, emotions are thus left aside, they keep on sleeping. All the (many) times that the story is being narrated, as they say, "in real time" - reporting step by step what the main character/narrator does, thinks, says or would say, etc. - rather than letting me feel increasingly attracted to, or even deeply immersed in the story's core, it makes me feel miles away from it or, sometimes, invited to assist to some sort of fiction's autopsy .
Last, in my opinion Davis will certainly be a great innovator, but even she cannot allow herself to break the basic rule of fiction writing - show, don't tell - -, as sometimes she does (e.g., Mothers) without loosing entirely the narrator's grip on the reader
Out of thirtythree stories, all in all there are eight I truly liked in various ways (The Mouse, The Letter, The House Plans, The Brother-in-Law, Visit to Her Husband, A Few Things Wrong with Me, Sketches for a Life of Wassilly, What an Old Woman Will Wear). And they are exactly the stories in which the search of the effects, the experimentation, the new ways' inventivness, the prose's style, in my personal judgment, turn out to be perfectly functional to the narration, without overflowing it.
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