Monday, June 20, 2011

How Davin's Book Makes Me Feel

I've been reading Davin's new collection of short stories he just put out (The Wild Grass), and although I've read some of these short stories before, I must say that the collection as a whole has struck me as something quite different than what I've experienced in Davin's work before. I had not read the first story, "The Burning Girl," before, and I hope Davin doesn't take offense when I say, "Huh?"

There was something I have missed in that story, and I can't wait to talk to Davin about it. The thing is, I still enjoyed the story. Davin's descriptions and honest portrayal of human emotion and the complexity it shares with connections to the outside world and close cultural experiences are some of my favorite things about his writing. Usually, starting a story of Davin's, he slowly pulls me in, as if I'm on a string led lightly by his hand, and he always leads me somewhere familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. It's uncomfortable most of the time, but fascinating. When I read the end, I'm always left breathless and wanting more. Maybe that was the whole point of "The Burning Girl."

Scott once described Davin as "...bright and crystalline and my chest always feels a certain way, almost like I'm holding my breath, when I read it. Davin is carefully laying out a mosaic, maybe, with the pieces all end-to-end in a well-lit space, every once in a while looking up at me and saying "You get how all the pieces fit together, right?"

I recently read a post from a friend of mine about how we remember people from how they make us feel, not what they said or did or looked like. I think that is very true, and I think writing is the same way. The books I love the most dearly are books that make me feel a certain way. Sometimes I forget what they're about, really, and sometimes I forget who wrote them or what the title is, but I always remember how they make me feel. This is why I return to certain music when I want to get in the mood for specific scenes in my writing, and why on Sundays I listen to religious-themed music to get me in the right emotional place to attend church. There's something about emotions and how things make us feel that affects our thoughts and behavior. For example, whenever I hear Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 14 (Moonlight Sonata), I invariably feel soft and reflective and vulnerable. Good fiction - solid, well-grounded fiction I can sink my teeth into always leaves me with a feeling similar to eating a healthy, filling meal. I want to sit back, relax, and contemplate the experience over and over. Davin's book that does to me, and it's one I'll pick up off my shelf repeatedly through the years when I want to feel a certain way.

As a whole, the collection is a stunning reminder to pay close attention to the details and people in our lives, even if they are fleeting. Things like a dead rabbit, a missing ring, a dog barking "I love you!" For a moment, when I read Davin's work, I feel like I've finally grasped onto those fleeting things in my own life, and it feels full and satisfactory and victorious.


  1. I'm about 2/3 through, and enjoying the stories. They feel very real-world (with a few notable exceptions, such as Red Man, Blue Man). My favorite so far is "Delores" which has a real sincerity to it.

    My take on "The Burning Girl" was a boy who was a cleansing ritual, an old-fashioned attempt to "cleanse" a little boy of feminine tendencies, and that boy's innocence. It is an interesting exposition on the ways a different culture reacts to a behavioral taboo.

  2. Rick: Ah, yes, that description brings a lot more sense to the story, thank you! Sometimes I can be so dense, hah.

    I thought Red Man, Blue Man felt real-world. What made it otherwise for you?

  3. The premise for "Red Man, Blue Man" sets it as symbolic rather than real-world for me.

  4. I can't wait till my copy arrives! You've really whet my appetite, Michelle!

  5. As I told Davin last week, I'm really scattered right now so I'm reading the stories at the rate of one each day, so I can come to them with focus. I tend to read collections much more slowly than I do novels; isn't that weird?

    I thought all of the writing in Davin's book is real-world, even "Red man, Blue man" and the one with the dog barking "I love you!" I know that Davin hasn't read much Chekhov, but his stories remind me a lot of Chekhov, especially the dog/goose one. Maybe it has to do with the way Davin presents exposition. He's got a direct, matter-of-fact way of just saying stuff. Everything in his stories is solid and real and I think that gives a force to the narrative.

    Michelle and I talked about how Virginia Woolf sort of makes us uncomfortable to read but we are compelled to read on, and Davin's stories sort of feel that same way to me. In a totally good way.

  6. Rick: I can see why you'd feel that way with the story, but it still felt real-world to me, especially as the body paint began to disappear. It felt real that it explored that side of a culture.

    Bridget: You will LOVE it!

    Scott: Yeah, I need to read more Checkhov, that's for sure. I think we should use him for our next anthology contest, which we really need to get moving on... *cough*

    Davin's work makes me uncomfortable, yes, but in one of the best ways that fiction does. It keeps me reading and I remember it and it makes me feel something other writing doesn't. That's a huge accomplishment.

  7. It's interesting and good for me to hear other people talking about the stories. So, thank you for talking about them. I had a hard time deciding whether or not to put Burning Girl up front. I know it's not as accessible as some other stories, but I think for me it helps to bring readers into my world. I guess I sort of think of it as an entryway. I'm also thinking a lot about how some of you are saying it makes you feel uncomfortable. Though I haven't thought about this for some of the stories because they are so familiar to me, thinking back, I can remember bring those elements in. Why? Do all books have that element of being uncomfortable?

  8. Davin, that story was a great way to open the collection. It really did bring me right into the world, and I had to read it twice to try and understand what was going on. I think I was mostly confused about what the intentions were for the characters, but that's not a criticism of the story. I think it was done very well. :)

    Not all books are uncomfortable for me, no.

  9. My favorite books make me uncomfortable; they provoke and ruffle feathers; they startle me into new wakefulness. I don't like fiction that lets me relax too much. I really hate fiction that lets me be a lazy reader.

  10. "The books I love the most dearly are books that make me feel a certain way." That is why I read; for the feelings the story engendered.

    I'm anxious to purchase my copy of Wile Grasses next payday. From the descriptions and review, sounds like a book I'd totally love.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Michelle.


  11. Beautiful post, Michelle!

    Actually, "The Burning Girl" was the first I read (from the Kindle sample)and was enthralled. It left me breathless, to be honest.

    I was so excited to find out I'd won the book in your giveaway. I can't wait to read the rest of the stories.

  12. Scott: My favorite books are the uncomfortable ones, too.

    Donna: Hope you enjoy Davin's book when you get it! It's a treasure. :)

    Linda: I loved "The Burning Girl", too. It just wasn't as clear to me as the others, and since I'm used to a lot of Davin's fiction, I wanted to understand it better. Hope you get the book soon!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.