‘The Revenge’ by Diane Williams

I’m interested in the distance between accidents and intention. A thoughtless act occurs without actual consideration, but an urge is something more derivative: it is intentional, sought, desirous, unclumsy. The urge drives the human to do something that changes the story’s texture. Diane Williams knows this. ‘Revenge’ is composed of ten brief sentences, the first of which is bracingly banal: “She sat in the chair and looked out a window to think sad thoughts and to weep.” Cliché is a tourniquet in Williams’ hands. Idiom is used to disorient and obfuscate—to make humans less intelligible to each other through repetition of platitudes and received wisdom— superlatives are dizzyingly stacked: “Everything she saw out the window was either richly gleaming or glittering, owing to a supernatural effect.”

There is something neo-Kierkegaardian in the way Williams scandalizes the entire color spectrum in order to defamiliarize a scene. One is conscious of how colors do things to verbs, or act upon verbs in uncanny ways. Black obfuscates. White starches and over-irons; it envisions; it entitles angels and light and epiphanic acts. Red scandalizes; it vexes and manifests; it scalds just as surely as scarlet scolds and crimson crushes and red food coloring blushes. Alas, now I’m thinking of “Yellower” and how one assumes the subject is connected to the title only to find, while reading, that superlatives gain their own momentum, acquire their own speed and valence in the mind. Everything is bigger, sicker, messier—and so nothing is actual.

Many of Williams’ stories play these language games that look back at the language and reveal how we misuse it. In an interviewWilliams described infidelity as “an inescapable subject”: “The fantasy of security is difficult to relinquish, as are the notions of invincibility and recklessness.”

Ending a sentence with the same article that opens the following sentence is anathema in writing workshops, but notice how gorgeously Williams accomplishes it in ‘Revenge’:

“Her mind was not changing. Her mind had not changed in years. Somebody’s headlights were blinding her. Her idea of  a pilgrimage or promenade excited her.”

Enormous and tiny, ‘Revenge’ demolishes the interior monologue by destabilizing it. The repetition strategy wrecks the speaker. I love Williams for her profanation of expectation. I love her mockery of rationality. I love the thumbscrew she makes of the familiar by employing uncanny juxtapositions. One must read her exemplary brutality, her relentless brilliance.

Published in The Collected Stories of Diane Williams, Soho Press, 2018

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