"You read Lydia Davis to watch a writer patiently divide the space between epiphany and actual human beings by first halves, then quarters, then eighths, and then sixteenths, into infinity," says The Village Voice. Indeed, Lydia Davis is mathematician, philosopher, sculptor, jeweler, and scholar of the minute. Few writers map the process of thought as well as she, few perceive with such charged intelligence.
The Cows is a close study of the three much-loved cows that live across the road from her. The piece, written with understated humor and empathy, is a series of detailed observations of the cows on different days and in different positions, moods, and times of the day. It could be compared to some sections of Wallace Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" or to Claude Monet's paintings of Rouen Cathedral.
Forms of play: head butting; mounting, either at the back or at the front; trotting away by yourself; trotting together; going off bucking and prancing by yourself; resting your head and chest on the ground until they notice and trot toward you; circling each other; taking the position for head-butting and then not doing it.
She moos toward the wooded hills behind her, and the sound comes back. She moos in a high falsetto before the note descends abruptly, or she moos in a falsetto that does not descend. It is a very small sound to come from such a large, dark animal.
About the Author
Lydia Davis: Lydia Davis, a 2003 MacArthur Fellow, is the author, most recently, of Collected Stories (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009). She is also the latest translator of Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust (Viking Penguin, 2002), and the forthcoming Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (Viking Penguin, 2010). She lives in rural upstate New York, across the road from the cows she has studied with such attention, and teaches at SUNY Albany.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Another absolutely precise exercise in writing and observation, this time on an intentionally undramatic subject, three cows across the street from Davis's house. For me, the interest is in observing the faint ghosts of other kinds of writing hovering around the nearly clean skeletons of her descriptions. A touch of surrealism, of anima rights, of detective stories, of transcendentalism... no paragraph is pure in the sense that a haiku can appear pure. (Appear, not be.)I am not as happy with the pictures, simply because they are too loosely correlated with the text. Why can't a writer as exacting as Davis demand the same of her images? On a page where the prose insists that she sees the cows only from a great distance and through a restricted angle of view, we get a photo of cows taken from the edge of their pasture. The difference is not made into a theme, either in the text (which doesn't acknowledge the viewpoint of the photos), or in the photos (which shift without rhyme or reason from telephoto to close-up). It makes images seem weak: it appears it's not right to request too much of them. I think the opposite.