The thirty-four stories in this seminal collection powerfully display what have become Lydia Davis's trademarks—dexterity, brevity, understatement, and surprise.
Although the certainty of her prose suggests a world of almost clinical reason and clarity, her characters show us that life, thought, and language are full of disorder. Break It Down is Davis at her best. In the words of Jonathan Franzen, she is "a magician of self-consciousness."
It looks like an open-and-shut case when a London warehouse is burglarized and suspicion points at night watchman Jim Thorpe as an accomplice. But the struggling law student vehemently denies taking part in the crime, despite the efforts of detective-inspector Bell to make him confess. Slowly, Bell becomes convinced that Thorpe is innocent, especially after the young man begins an investigation of his own that results in his being stalked and viciously beaten. At the heart of the mystery is a letter stolen from the warehouse that incriminates Sir Thomas Barnham, a Member of Parliament, in a shady land deal. Is Barnham guilty of setting up the burglary and the murders that followed? Thorpe travels from a Spanish resort to the upper echelons of power to find the truth, in this absorbing and well-crafted mystery.