Break It Down by Lydia Davis, 1983
The magic trick:
Revealing passion through a cold set of details
The narrator in “Break It Down” is trying to itemize the value of a love affair, specifically a 10-day vacation rendezvous. By nature this is a cold, emotionless process. And he begins the story with those characteristics – cold and emotionless.
What’s remarkable is that as he continues on listing each detail of the vacation the story warms up. His passion shows through in spite of his attempts to rationalize a sensible, distanced approach to his pain. It’s a losing battle. Heartache always wins out over logic. And that’s quite a trick on Davis’s part.
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, just for 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.