Attrib. and Other Stories

Eley Williams. Anchor, $16 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-0-593-31235-3

British writer Williams’s diverting collection (after The Liar’s Dictionary) combines wordplay and narrative to chart her characters’ attempts to find meaning. In “The Alphabet,” flirtation, romance, and memory are explored through each letter’s attendant associations as the narrator, addressing her partner, loses her ability to express herself because of worsening aphasia (“ ‘You can’t spell aphrodisiac without aphasia,’ you said later, trying to make a filthy joke out of it and holding me”). In “Concision,” the narrator, while on a silent phone call with an erstwhile lover, meditates on words in other languages that have no analogue in English, such as the Finnish word löyly for a sauna’s steam. “Spins,” set during a London gloaming, demonstrates the author’s acute powers of observation: “clouds make a candy-colour of the evening, the passers-by have conversations that marble together like endpapers.” Williams is strongest, however, when she diverts from rhetorical games. In “Spines,” a vacationing family notices a distressed hedgehog treading water in a pool. The question of whether to save it reveals the lesson-focused cruelty of the family patriarch: “If it thinks we’ll scoop it out each time, it won’t learn.” Williams explores pathos and the dictionary with aplomb and a fresh voice. Anglophiles and linguistic schemers will savor this. Agent: Lucy Luck, C&W Agency. (May)