‘Nancy Brown will be in Town’ by Lydia Davis

I first came across Lydia Davis in a piece on experimental fiction, although I had an uncanny feeling of having encountered her before. She resists the label ‘experimental’ (in ‘From Raw Material to Finished Work: Forms and Influences II’, from her recently published Essays), since it ‘implies that the writer had a plan to test some preconceived writing strategy and see if it would work’. She doesn’t consider her stories to be ‘in any way experimental’, then, since she prefers to start them without much of a plan or process. I take her point, but doubt there is a better term, currently, for work that subverts the form, as hers so often does.

Another essay (Forms and Influences III, on ‘Sources, Revision, Order, and Endings’) includes a fascinating analysis of the genesis (a group email) and evolution of ‘Nancy Brown will be in Town’. Here is the finished product:

Nancy Brown Will Be in Town
Nancy Brown will be in town. She will be in town to sell her things. Nancy Brown is moving far away. She would like to sell her queen mattress.
Do we want her queen mattress? Do we want her ottoman? Do we want her bath items?
It is time to say good-bye to Nancy Brown.
We have enjoyed her friendship. We have enjoyed her tennis lessons.

First published as ‘Susie Brown will be in Town’ in Five Dials; collected in Can’t and Won’t, Hamish Hamilton, 2014

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