cover image Ninety-Nine Stories of God

Ninety-Nine Stories of God

Joy Williams. Tin House (Norton, dist.), $19.95 (168p) ISBN 978-1-941040-35-5

In Williams’s hands (The Visiting Privilege), a “story of God” can apparently be almost anything. Her slender new collection includes in its 99 stories pithy flash-fiction pieces about mothers, wives, writers, and dogs, anecdotes from the lives of Tolstoy and Kafka, newspaper clipping–like meditations on O.J. Simpson and Ted Kaczynski, conversational asides (the story “Museum” consists entirely of the line “We were not interested the way we thought we would be interested”), and, finally, actual stories about God—a particularly put-upon, bewildered God who seems to have lost the thread of his creation somewhere along the line. Here, the Holy Ghost is just as likely to alight in a slaughterhouse as to visit a demolition derby or appear to William James or Simone Weil, both of whom have their own brush with transcendence. The best of Williams’s humor, and her wonderful feel for characters, is present in pieces such as “Elephants Never Forget God,” in which James Agee describes a movie he’d like to make, or “Giraffe,” in which an aging gardener suddenly feels the presence of the divine. Somewhere in the neighborhood of Jim Harrison’s Letters to Yesenin, these stories are 100% Williams: funny, unsettling, and mysterious, to be puzzled over and enjoyed across multiple readings. (July)