Required Reading — Kathryn Davis

My favorite book that we’ve read in my “Contemporary Fiction” class is Hell by Kathryn Davis.hell

In it Davis inhabits four worlds simultaneously: a suburban family in the 1950s, the ramshackle cottage of a “domestic icon” of late 19th century, a doll house with a life of its own, and Napolean’s mad genius chef, Antonin Careme. Wuthering Heights, W. W. Jacob’s “The Monkey’s Paw”,  Hoffmann, Poe, and Little Women are also invoked throughout.

It’s a challenging book to read–Davis pulls the reader through time and space, sometimes within the space of a sentence. I’m not usually drawn to such difficult novels (my professor, Chris Bachelder, referred to it as an “anti-novel”) but the writing is so beautiful it really pulled me through. Also, the subject of domesticity and female experience is always appealing to me.

Here’s how the first chapter ends:

Out the window the town of X, all the houses haunted, even the meanest of them, for it’s common knowledge misery breeds tenacity–just ask my mother. The houses haunted and the pond perfectly smooth, except near the dance pavilion where someone has just stood, wobbled for a moment, dizzy, to wade through the sickeningly hot water at the pond’s edge, leaving a fan of black creases. A strand of bright green algae wrapping around one ankle. A barking dog. The ruined chimneys of Moss Cottage looking down like sentinels, all that remain of the shake-shingled hideaway where Edwina Moss delivered herself of the single endless sentence that was to be her last word on household management, after she lost her husband, her daughter, her mind.

I dare you to not want to keep reading.

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One thought on “Required Reading — Kathryn Davis

  1. Kathryn Davis was my creative writing professor at Skidmore! She is the warmest, kindest lady and one of the best teachers I’ve had. She had our whole class over to her house for dinner where she cooked us a huge Indian feast and we all read aloud from our favorite books and cuddled with her dog, a huge Great Pyrenees. Oh the Skidmore experience.

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