Aspen Times Weekly book review: ‘Ninety-nine Stories of God’
‘Ninety-nine Stories of God’
151 pages, hardcover; $19.95
Tin House Books, 2016
Few writers can do more with a sentence or two than the short story master Joy Williams.
Her new book of micro-fictions, “Ninety-nine Stories of God,” offers readers short shorts that range from pithy to playful to profound. There are narratives boiled down to their elegant basics, there are jokes and koans, there are tossed-off deep thoughts in the arch Jack Handy tradition. The collection’s mix of wry humor, brutal unhappy endings and spiritual musings makes for an odd book but an immensely satisfying read.
The stories range from a single sentence to a few pages. Most have an under-title at the end, printed in capital letters. Some of Williams’ stories here invite us to create whole narratives of our own with a few ingeniously chosen words. For instance, one tagged “MUSEUM” reads, in full: “We were not interested the way we though we would be interested.”
Each story is simply numbered from 1 to 99. They’re not explicitly categorized otherwise, but they often do play off of one another in sort of thematic movements — there are many stories about influential writers and artists and thinkers through the centuries, there’s a run of stories about Native Americans and several in a row about church politics and a series about pets (animals steal the show often, as is frequently the case in Williams’ work).
God him or herself makes several appearances, in some of the cheekier stories. One begins: “The Lord was in line at the pharmacy counter waiting to get His shingles shot” and goes on to describe the impatient woman in line behind God complaining he’s taking too long. In another, The Lord adopts a tortoise in Tucson.
I found myself reading many of these stories over and over again — sometimes digging into new depths and double meanings, other times finding nothing more than a clever punchline, occasionally getting emotionally gutted (as in the story about a car wash for a child who has been shot and killed accidentally).
Over the course of these 99 stories, you’ll meet a rabbit named “Actually,” O.J. Simpson or the Unabomber, and an elderly hunter shooting moose from a recliner. Which is to say: there’s a surprise with every turn of the page.
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Perhaps it’s because we are in the abbreviated days of winter and I instinctively know that the sun is shining down-under. But every January I go through a nostalgic period where Australian wine dominates my mind.