Books Made of Paper

Lydia Davis: ‘The End of the Story'

Gigglers: I’m not going to seek out the newest hardcovers and tell you whether or not to buy them. And while not the Sunday Review, this Sunday blog will explore my brilliant and fascinating thoughts about books. Please use the comments section to share your own thoughts on this book, or whatever you’re reading.

If you’ve ever obsessed over a relationship after a break up, raise your hand. If your fingers are not waving in the air, please share your secrets in the comments below. Everyone else will likely relate to the protagonist in The End of the Story.

The End of the Story is Lydia Davis’s only novel, her other books are all short story collections, and she also written translations just like her protagonist, who is a translator/writer, writing about writing the novel we’re reading. Confusing, I know. Davis has a highly observationist way of writing (is that a word? It is now), and is on the more experimental side. This is the sort of book that you need to slow down and take your time with—it’s twice as short as most books I read, but took me twice as long. Just as the protagonist mulls over minute details, the reader is asked to focus and mull. I’m a good muller, so this was fine with me.

The entire book revolves around the memory of a relationship that ended years in the past, with a younger man, and the narrator’s attempt to write a novel about it. It’s a study in memory, fiction, narrative and observation. The intense focus on details reminded me of the writing of Nicholson Baker, another experimental author I highly recommend if you are practiced in the art of patience.

But this protagonist’s musings on her ex go beyond the casual trip down memory lane—she obsessively thinks about him and in her telling of the aftermath, she also semi-stalks him and tries to get him back. I’ve never had a break-up like that, but I did recently have a life-altering break-up, and I know how hard it can be to move forward.

Davis zeroes in on one of the dangers of making a life with another person: losing yourself. This is one of the narrator’s stalking moments, when she’s watching her ex play basketball: “A part of me had grown into him at the same time that a part of him had grown into me. That part of me was still in him now. I looked at him and saw not only him but myself as well, and saw that that part of myself was lost.”

Photo by David Ignaszewski

Davis also writes about the way we see things from different perspectives the farther we get from a relationship and the less our memory serves us. We can start idealizing something that wasn’t so great to begin with, or our worst memories can come into focus, overshadowing the good ones. Sometimes you try not to think about it at all, but when you’re the one who got dumped, like our narrator, the confusion can lead to questions that lead to investigation that can go on and on until there’s some sort of resolution, which is what the she seeks in order to complete her search and her novel.

In the meantime, she does a lot of this.

“I couldn’t stop listening to the sounds of cars, waiting to hear the sound of his. I paid attention to the sound of each car as though it were a voice.”

How beautifully written is that?

It’s never clear to me why all the fuss over the man in this novel. She admits several times that she only appreciated him when they were not together and there aren’t many indications that he was a great boyfriend or particularly interesting guy. She is aware that they bickered when they were together, but couldn’t help dreaming about him when they were apart. And therein lies the conundrum of lust—you can’t always explain where it comes from or why all the fuss. All you know is there’s this guy or girl who makes your heart a-flutter, and you’ve got to make them yours.

Images from Macmillan

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