One great short story to read today: Lydia Davis’s “Break it Down”

Emily Temple

May 10, 2024, 10:30am

According to the powers that be (er, apparently according to Dan Wickett of the Emerging Writers Network), May is Short Story Month. To celebrate, for the second year in a row, the Literary Hub staff will be recommending a single short story, free* to read online, every (work) day of the month. Why not read along with us? Today, we recommend:

“Break it Down” by Lydia Davis

I often have a particular experience reading a Lydia Davis story. It’s hard to explain, but it’s as though she’s put her finger in a body of water, say a lake, and stirred, and then the ripples have taken over the lake, changed the texture of its entire surface. She’s done it with such a small gesture, which is her special magic. In this story, she stirs up something very specific: the kind of accounting you only do at the end of a love affair, as you’re wondering whether it was worth it. But, you know, funny.

The story begins:

He’s sitting there staring at a piece of paper in front of him. He’s trying to break it down. He says,

I’m breaking it all down. The ticket was $600 and then after that there was more for the hotel and food and so on, for just ten days. Say $80 a day, no, more like $100 a day. And we made love, say, once a day on the average. That’s $100 a shot. And each time it lasted maybe two or three hours so that would be anywhere from $33 to $50 an hour, which is expensive.

Read it here.

*If you hit a paywall, we recommend trying with a different/private/incognito browser (but listen, you didn’t hear it from us).

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