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Lydia Davis’s Barely Veiled New Yorker Target: Khaled Hosseini

A subtweet, New Yorker style.

“Friendly and nice and in a way innocent,” says Davis. But about those metaphors.

Writer Lydia Davis, known for the emotional clarity and, sometimes, darkness, of her short short stories, told the New Yorker’s Dana Goodyear that “I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings, and I don’t like to knock other writers as a matter of principle.”

She then proceeded to offer a penetrating takedown of a writer who, a simple Google search reveals, is the bestselling Afghan-born American novelist and doctor Khaled Hosseini, whose best-known work is the breakout 2003 book The Kite Runner.

Davis’s problems with Hosseini (a “popular writer” who Davis “asked me not to name,” writes Goodyear) are about the precision of his language. First, there’s “a sentence about an acute intimacy that had eroded into something dull.”

“‘Acute is sharp, and then eroded is an earth metaphor,’” Davis notes.

Then there’s: “A paper bag stuffed with empty wine bottles.”

“You’d think he could get away with it, but he can’t, because ‘stuffed’ is a verb that comes from material. It’s soft, so it’s a problem to stuff it with something hard,” says Davis.

The wine bottle line is verbatim from Hosseini’s recent novel, The Mountains Echoed, which also contains this line: “The unexpected intimacy he had stumbled upon in that hospital, so urgent and acute, has eroded into something dull.”

Davis’s reaction: “I know something’s wrong here.”

It was, she said, a charitable impulse.

“It’s me feeling a little sorry that I’m writing down all his mistakes, because he looks so friendly and nice and in a way innocent,” she said of Hosseini’s smiling image on the book jacket. “Some author photos don’t look so innocent.”

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