“The Center of the Story” by: Lydia Davis

Davis is capable of performing real magic with her prose, just like in this one, where she self-consciously deconstructs the short story’s form.

“A woman has written a story that has a hurricane in it…”

This story is about a hurricane. This story is about religion. This story is about a man. Davis cleverly pays tribute to the religiosity of the number “three”, of even, perhaps, the “Holy Trinity” (i.e.: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost…) by her own use of the above story “arcs” or points. As is with a good bit of her writing, the narration is a smart, highly self-conscious one that takes the reader on a sort-of-stream-of-consciousness journey. Oftentimes, at first, how she’ll reach the ending is murky. Davis likes stringing–people, places, things, symbols–together that seem wildly disconnected on first encountering them. My advice? Hold tight. She’ll start making a surprising amount of sense soon enough. She does so in this story by tracing the looped patterns of thought–the rhythmic circling we all do when mulling on something particular–the way we reach decisions by a logic that oftentimes surprises us in its simpleness.

This story is about a woman, a writer, possibly even Davis herself, or a shadow-self version, thinking about a story she has written and the way a story is made, the elements a story needs and does not need to succeed, and the idea of its center–mainly, what keeps a story together, arranged neatly, ready to be read. This story is also about religion, and how just because you believe in one thing doesn’t necessarily mean you have to believe in the other. It’s also about how our actions may sometimes lead us in discovering what we actually believe in:

“… and if he was trying to hurt God he must believe in him.”

It’s also about the centers of things. How the outline of something can exist in essence, but contain no real “center”, without the necessity of being its most extreme form. For example, a man can be sick without dying. A hurricane can approach, but not strike. You can have the existential comfort that religion offers without actually defining it as “having faith”.

These are the shades of things. These are the many multifaceted components that the single image, the single storm, the single statement, can hold. In this story, Davis temporarily pixelates these simple images for us in order to show the complexity that even the smallest of stories holds.

Lydia Davis, you’re just too good for me to even deal.

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