Lydia Davis’s brief, often elliptical, fictional studies have rightly earned comparisons to the work of that loosely gathered group of post-war French experimentalists writing in pursuit of the nouveau roman, the new novel. And though we’re now inclined to toss anything we deem experimental into the big post-modern bin, Davis owes some pretty specific debts to both the severely restrained hysteria of Marguerite Duras and the joyful Oulipo formalities of Georges Perec. But insofar as comparisons to such wonderful writers are justified, Davis’s work cannot but suffer by contrast. Though her formal acumen is never in doubt throughout this collection of 57 stories (some of which are only a sentence long) the rigor and discipline with which she undertakes and completes each, well, exercise, leaves very little room for any underlying humanity: that fragile element in a story that elevates it from anecdote to art. Writers like Duras and Perec used rules and formal restrictions to help them give shape to vast, inarticulable wells of tragedy and comedy. For Davis — in this collection anyway — it would seem that rules are just rules.