20 March 2015
Clock on the wall

I have always been intrigued to read Lydia Davis's first, and so far only, novel – first published in 1995 and long out of print in the UK. I worried beforehand that I might not love it as much as her unique and brilliant short fiction; that it might not be as strong; that the prose might not sustain the longer form.

To my delight it turned out to have all of the pleasures of her micro-fictions and stories: the same concise elegance, sharp perception, waspish wit, and emotional intelligence, but this time played out in a longer narrative. Typically of the author it is both a love story and an account of the making of that story, from beginning to end.

As the Village Voice said at the time, 'No contemporary writer has so bravely explored the severe elegance of the thinking woman.' As powerful now as when it was first published – perhaps even more so – it is a classic of its kind.

– Simon Prosser.

Read an exclusive extract from The End of the Story

The last time I saw him, though I did not know it would be the last, I was sitting on the terrace with a friend and he came through the gate sweating, his face and chest pink, his hair damp, and stopped politely to talk to us. He crouched on the red-painted concrete or rested on the edge of a slatted wooden bench.

It was a hot day in June. He had been moving his things out of my garage and into the back of a pickup truck. I think he was going to take them to another garage. I remember how flushed his skin was, but I have to imagine his boots, his broad white thighs as he crouched or sat, and the open, friendly expression he must have worn on his face, talking to these women who were not demanding anything of him.

I know I was conscious of how my friend and I looked, the two of us sitting with our feet up on our deck chairs, and that in my friend's presence I might seem even older to him than I was, but also that he might find this attractive. He went into the house to get a drink of water, then came back out and told me he was finished and would be on his way.

A year later, when I thought he had forgotten me altogether, he sent me a poem in French, copied out in his handwriting. There was no letter with the poem, though he addressed it to me, using my name, as though beginning a letter, and closed it with his name, as though closing a letter.

At first, when I saw the envelope with his handwriting on it, I thought he might be returning the money he owed me, over $300. I had not forgotten that money because things had changed for me and I needed it. Although the poem was addressed to me from him, I wasn't sure what he meant to say to me with that poem, or what I was meant to think he was saying, or how he was using it.

He had put his return address on the envelope, so I knew he might expect an answer, but I didn't know how to answer it. I didn't think I could send another poem, and I didn't know what kind of letter would answer that poem.

After a few weeks had passed, I found a way to answer it, telling him what I thought when I received what he sent, what I thought it was and how I discovered it was not that, how I read it and what I thought he might mean by sending me a poem about absence, death, and rejoining.

I wrote all this in the form of a story because that seemed as impersonal as his poem. I included a note saying the story had been hard for me to write. I sent my answer to the address on the envelope, but I didn't hear from him again.

I copied the address into my address book, erasing an earlier one that had not been good for very long. No address of his was good for very long and the paper in my address book where his address is written is thin and soft from being erased so often.

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