A Table of Green Fields

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Except for TATLIN! (1974), all of Guy Davenport’s twenty-odd books have been published by small and university presses that, even as they have made his works available, kept his audience rather small. The publication now of A TABLE OF GREEN FIELDS by New Directions, a highly selective but by no means small press, should ensure reasonably wide distribution of a collection whose ten stories are among Davenport’s best and certainly his most accessible, even though no less characteristic of the author’s unique style of storytelling. Architectonic rather than linear in their development, all but devoid of plot and character, these densely textured and highly allusive “assemblages of fact and necessary fiction” delight, surprise, and challenge in equal measure in their search for “something lost . . . energies, values, and certainties unwisely abandoned by an industrial age.”

The ten stories offer a perfect balance of the sensuous and the cerebral, and are at once precise yet playful, intricate yet inviting. Davenport’s “conjectural restoration” of some letters Kafka may have written a young girl he found crying on the street one day is a delight, as is his brief contextualizing of a single sentence from Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals. (Endnotes, a new feature of Davenport’s fiction, help guide the reader through these and most of the other stories.) Davenport’s continuing interest in, and updating of, the pastoral form evidences itself in several stories about the sexual and intellectual inquisitiveness of youths who seem likely to escape the fate of their kind, “intelligent children become teen-age louts, who grow up to be pompous dullards.” Best of the ten are “August Blue,” which defies summary but not comprehension, and “Concord Sonata,” Davenport’s homage to Henry David Thoreau by way of the composer Charles Ives and a good many others. Fiction this good—this exciting and this exacting—offers an excellent and accessible alternative to the loutishness and deadening predictability of so much popular literature, including those annual collections of “best” and “prizewinning” short stories.

Sources for Further Study

Columbus Dispatch. November21, 1993, p. G6.

Lexington Herald-Leader. November 28, 1993, p. lit.

Library Journal. CXVIII, October 1, 1993, p.129.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVIII, December 12, 1993, p.22.

Publishers Weekly. CCXL, August 23, 1993, p.59.

San Francisco Chronicle. January 9, 1994, p. REV4.

The Village Voice. December 7, 1993, p. SS11.

The Washington Post Book World. XXIII, December 19, 1993, p.6.