Diane Williams

No one gives us the sharp, disoriented suburbs like Diane Williams. Objects are used to characterize the humans who define themselves in relation to objects. “Her immature new brooch she skewered onto herself, and she hung her hat on the genitalia of a chair,” Williams writes. We get characterization from lines like “with every stride she took her hair was bumped by her hat.”

Point of view loads the story, or determines the expectation of the narrative gesture. Williams plays with superlatives in “Yellower”: we think the subject is connected to the title but the superlatives form 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. 

“This is for me to say since the old times.” Williams uses this anachronistic assertion to begin “Tureen”. Notice how the title, itself—Tureen–evokes something between a name and piece of cookware. Williams doesn’t explain what Tureen is, and one is inclined to take it as the name of the speaker. But it’s a portrait as well–a portrait of a Tureen, and one can’t unhear the kitchen. 

Idiom is used to disorient and obfuscate—to make humans less intelligible to each other through repetition of platitudes and received wisdom—as in “Through a fault of my own own I set off as if I’m on a horse…” (563). This use of conversational explanatory style creates the expectation that we will be intimate with the speaker, but Williams never offers those epiphanies or revelations. See, your mother never saved eggshells for the holiday. And that is why the man wears his rain boots into the foyer and everything feels rattled like a snake hanging from a fake tree. See, I am just playing with the absurd consequentiality Williams sets up in her stories. There isn’t any plot. Language and rhyme borrow from poetry. There may be a stage or a film where all of this happens, and the point of view keeps spinning, shifting, estranging the scene. We know so little about each other really, and we can write to reveal this, to render the ordinary as tenuous and goringly brutal as it seems.

Read “Revenge” by Diane Williams and notice how she uses the familiar to defamiliarize. She also often uses strange juxtapositions to create momentum in a piece. Let’s write into the absolute strangeness.