Lydia Davis’s stories are dreams. They’re also letters and lists, animal fables and obituaries; others recount episodes from Flaubert’s life. Her stories—but are they stories? Can’t and Won’t (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26), the cannily defiant eighth book of fiction by the noted translator freshens the world and teases the imagination, as stories do; though Davis is as apt to use crisp observations and tart comments as she is recognizable plots to achieve this end, she is also meticulous in recreating scenes of daily life. This very precision is marvelously suggestive; why exactly these details? Are any essential to shaping a life, or are they all more or less arbitrary? Change one—and new plots, new characters, new stories will emerge. Along with hints of such untold tales, Davis has a delightful and disarming brand of wordplay; a story about an odd crime—the disappearance of salamis—turns into a parable of identity theft when news reports call the salamis “sausages.” Then there’s the meticulous journal of how three cows in a neighboring field spend their days—a rumination on ruminants.
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