Williams’ creed, evidenced by her funny, fantastical stories, is this: The world is bizarre and random, and the way we make sense of coincidences is as meaningful as coincidences themselves ... Williams’ says more in a page-long scene than most can say in a chapter; it’s fitting, then, that her very short collection manages to encompass such an eternal theme with wit and grace.
Wry and playful, except for when densely allusive and willfully obtuse, Ninety-Nine Stories of God is a treasure trove of bafflements and tiny masterpieces ... Williams is a vociferous and despairing pantheist, more Spinoza than St. Francis (though she does love dogs). Her apocalyptic worldview often translates on the page to comedy, albeit of a brutal and comfortless sort.
Williams’s sense of comedy tends to undercut obvious 'seriousness.' Her fables start like fables but end, a few lines later, in abrupt self-mockery; they seem to bite their own tails ... Ninety-nine Stories of God is a slight book, provocatively so; the pieces vary in quality, and can seem like pressed keepsakes from a commonplace book. Still, they miniaturize the qualities found in Joy Williams’s celebrated short stories: concision, jumped connections, singular details, brutal humor.
Like Flannery O’Connor, another writer to whom Williams has been often compared, Williams has a knack for skewering the falsely righteous ... Considered as a whole, these stories repeatedly show us the violence and viciousness of human ways and God’s powerlessness to change our course. Williams lightens the blow by combining the sacred and the trashy, using prosaic language to talk about God and sarcasm to undercut some of our most revered beliefs and thinkers. You’ll laugh and feel heartsick at the same time.
...despite the title, Ms. Williams is her usual funny, irreverent self in this collection of very brief sketches sometimes only loosely connected to the theme of the divine ... Ms. Williams’s brain is always good company, though some of the shortest entries here are unnecessary. The story 'Museum' simply reads: 'We were not interested the way we thought we would be interested.' It’s a sentiment that occasionally applies to this collection, which sparkles darkly but more intermittently than Ms. Williams’s previous work.
'He was becoming harder and harder to comprehend,' Williams writes in the 73rd of her Ninety-Nine Stories of God. People have been saying that for centuries, few with the sly wonder of Williams ... [The] short shorts aren’t all about God, not directly, and they’re not aphorisms or Zen koans or one-page treatments for busy movie executives. They’re highly evolved examples of flash fiction.
Because the word 'God' appears in the title, the nonreligious reader might move on along. Stay. Many will buy this book because of the religious tag, but if this is a religious collection, then the book is a religious mongrel in the best sense ... Joy Williams is our contemporary O’Connor with a mix of Protestant sacraments and a Zen Koan consciousness ... The book knocks down the barriers of genre definition, and the sublime shifts along an axis from irony to dark humor.