‘The Nature of the Miracle’ by Diane Williams

The work of Diane Williams is unexpected, enigmatic, often fraught with tension and anxiety. But reading her stories, I also feel the sheer joy of the creative act. Perhaps that’s because as a senior editor of her literary annual NOON, I’ve had an insight into her process over the years including her belief that any remarkable language can be saved and made use of, her determination to continue to surprise or frighten herself in her writing, and the way she stitches sentences together to make something unexpected and new. Many of her stories are barely longer than a page, but her body of work is extraordinary—her collected stories span 764 pages, and since it was published, she has already produced another collection, How High? — That High, and has yet another due out this year. How to select just one? I went back to the beginning, and chose ‘The Nature of the Miracle’ from Williams’s first book, This Is About the Body, the Mind, the Soul, The World, Time, and Fate (how much I have learned from her about the way titles can bring gravity or resonance to a story!) Here, we can see the themes that have come to dominate her oeuvre—the possible collisions of sex and violence, the menace of seemingly ordinary domestic situations, and all the ways a woman might lose her grip. I also love the framing of unrequited love as a communicable disease that might pass from one woman to another by using the same shopping trolley, and the way the narrator’s disastrous circular logic repeats through the story like a refrain. It’s a masterclass in the art of brevity.

First published in This Is About the Body, the Mind, the Soul, The World, Time, and Fate, Grove Weidenfeld, 1990. Collected in The Collected Stories of Diane Williams, Soho Press, 2018

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