The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (2009): A single volume collects all four of Davis’ story collections, from Break It Down (1986) to Varieties of Disturbance (2007). Hilarious but brittle, plainspoken but given to odd moments of whimsical splendor, tough about love and relationships, Davis’s voice is assured and conversational. It’s also deeply odd and minimalist, breaking down a story to only what is absolutely necessary. Most of the protagonists don’t have names; Davis isn’t much given to loads of physical detail; many are impressionistic fragments—literary snapshots—rather than narratives; many more whittle down a narrative into a page. “Two Sisters” is so dense that the sisters’ full lives and deaths—and relationship with each other—takes up two pages. So, short means short with her. A long Davis story is seven or eight pages; most are less than four, some are a single paragraph or even obscure one-liners. One of my favorite Davis stories (“Happiest Moment”) is shorter than this paragraph, which means I’ve said more than enough.
Domestic Work by Natasha Trethewey (2000): Biloxi, MS, native Trethewey gleans her fresh, rhythmic, heartbreaking poems from her home state’s tragic racial history. As the title indicates, Trethewey focuses on work, particularly “women’s” work, and particularly as it’s done by African American women. Trethewey frequently uses photographs as her starting point, so it’s no surprise that her poetry is so visually oriented and sensuous in detail. At the same time, she doesn’t write in curlicues or with perfumed sentences. Whether discussing her mother, her childhood as a mixed-race kid, the racial inequalities of the modern South, or a (rare) moment of peace, Trethewey lands hard punches and cuts to the quick.