‘Marriage and the Family’ by Diane Williams

Like many of Williams’s short stories, this one is very short, at under three pages. The sentences are so compressed, the meaning is somehow packed tightly between them.
It begins with the conceit that Williams cannot distinguish between several sisters who run a stationery shop. As she describes them collectively, this quickly becomes absurdly funny. She writes: “Two or three of the sisters may be married.” And then later, “A mother of a sister called in once, and she was spoken to sweetly by one of the sisters.”
From there the narrator works herself up into a rage, describing furiously things she had definitely not said to the sisters. And just when you think you have a good handle on where the story is going, the story turns abruptly and takes us somewhere completely different.

From This is About the Body, the Mind, the Soul, the World, Time and Fate, Grove Press, 1990; collected in The Collected Stories of Diane Williams, Soho Press, 2019

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