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
A friend recently put me onto Diane Williams’ work, for which I am so grateful. She is one of those writers who, from the first page, I knew I must read everything. This is the pick, for me, so far of her strange insightful tales, with these lines, in particular (which close the story), standing out as somehow representative of the whole:The host called, ‘Kids! Mike! Dad and Mom!’ He called these copulators to come in to dinner. In fact, this group represented a predictable array of vocations – including hard workers, worriers, travelers, and liars – defecators, or course, urinators and music makers.
From Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, CB Editions, 2016, available at PANK
Reading Diane Williams is like understanding another language in a dream. There’s suddenly a whole new way of seeing things. I chose this story because the first line is an all-time favourite: ‘People often wait a long time and then, like me, suddenly they’re back in the news with a changed appearance’. Who are the kind of people who wait to end up back in the news? Why were they in the news in the first place? Is the changed appearance just a matter of course? Does ‘changed’ mean they’re completely unrecognisable? Listen to Deb Olin Unferth (another absolute hero), introducing the story here.
Published in Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, McSweeney’s/CB Editions, 2016. Available to read online, with an introduction by Deb Olin Unferth on Electric Literature here.
I don’t know if I’ll be a fan of Diane Williams’ stories in ten years’ time or whether, by then, I’ll consider them arch. For now though, and since I first encountered them, I find that their painstakingly spontaneous contortions – not to mention their plentiful exclamation marks! – mean they read like no other short fiction.
First published in Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, CB Editions, 2016. Read it online here
I could have picked any one of the forty stories from this collection. Her writing is so energetic, always surprising, and militantly singular. When I start reading one of her stories – no matter how many times I’ve read it before – I often find myself thinking “Ah, yes, I’ve got this one sewn up! I get it! I’ll not be conquered this time!” What a fool I am. Williams has this knack to outwit her readers. I don’t believe it’s intentional, but simply who the writer, Diane Williams, is. Her sharp eye on life. Her ability to tunnel into the mundane, to slip through the cracks, and pull out endless treasures. I’m with Jonathan Franzen, who said: “Diane Williams is one of the true living heroes of the American avant-garde.” Keep ’em coming, Diane!
from Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, CB editions, 2016
Why not go to the swimming pool or on a picnic with Diane Williams? The juxtapositions in her stories may appear bizarre at first but, really, there’s nothing more like life.
Published on The White Review, June 2014. Chosen by Joanna Walsh. Read Joanna’s Personal Anthology here