More than any other writer today, Diane Williams understands the essentially tragicomic nature of the penis, human or otherwise ... [Williams's] stories court laughter first, then, and only in retrospect, long-accumulated tears: tears of regret for opportunities lost, for people mislaid; tears of despair for the strangeness, the separateness that intimacy reveals and fails to overcome. You don’t have to read all three hundred and five stories to get the point. (Though you should. Williams can do more with two sentences than most writers can do with two hundred pages.) ... Language is as strange and wonderful a material as any, and Williams demands that you slow down to appreciate it, that you luxuriate in every letter, every word, the spaces and silences between them.
Williams’ stories run anywhere from a sentence to two and a half pages—but typically much shorter—into which are packed abstract miniature worlds of razor-sharp intellect, vivid prose stripped bare of illusion or ornament, and psychosexual longing. It is fiction that reads like the residue of a dream. Often there’s a sensation of being caught in a moment of self-realization or a glimpse into the embattled core of a restless psyche ... Williams’s work is not only brutal in the way it squeezes meaning from three or four lines; it’s brutalist in the architectural sense, rough-hewn and modular ... they’re words you can read over and over again with the same pleasurable disorientation; they communicate some wild combination of loneliness, terror, and lurking violence. Doing the work, that is, of the most urgent and outrageous of fictions ... the work is ever-pressurized, crushing inward on the trappings of personhood ... Depending on how you define it, there is as much content in these stories to sink your teeth into than any number of dry social novels. See how much you can do, Diane Williams seems to say, when you concentrate; beyond the bullshit is the raw material of the unconstructed self.
Williams’s fiction has the rhythm and diction of East Coast speech, and the intensity and sociality of the letter-writer who cranks herself up to offer a distillate from the endlessly mundane ... What is veiled (or just normal) about her life is revealed (or fabulated) in her fiction, which is full of funny, libidinal and invigorating enigmas. In her stories, roles and classifications are up for grabs. The narrator is usually a woman, but relations misbehave ... I resist describing Williams as an absurdist or surrealist (though I often think of Leonora Carrington, Samuel Beckett and Gertrude Stein while reading her). The narration is too homely, driven by idiosyncrasy, intimacy, and the valiant effort to maintain dignity. Besides, the sentences that come out of our mouths are routinely weirder than those we think to write ... It’s perfect to leave on the bedside table, to be consulted before one’s dreamlife begins
Throughout The Collected Stories Of Diane Williams...her topical preoccupations may shift, but from the very beginning, Williams has demonstrated a horologist’s precision for how her sentences are made, down to the very syllable and phoneme ... One reads a Diane Williams sentence—each a charged, quaking world unto itself—as one reads each individual story: with little sense of where it will go. Each opening line throws the reader into an uncanny conflict, a tilted mood, a precarious predicament ... The stories that circle back on themselves are usually the most conventionally gratifying, their intent more recognizable; the others can sometimes feel arbitrary, or merely unknowable, and yet uncertainty is frequently the point. By embracing confusion, Williams shows a commitment to her own singular vision, one that resists satisfying the expectations of traditional fiction. Tensions arise within sentences, and in the surprising leaps made from one to the next.
There are no first sentences full of orienting details, no dramatic dialogue, no neat epiphanies in a story’s final lines. A concluding sentence is more likely to open up a story than to resolve it ... Tones clash; idioms and allusions brush up against each other. Even her shortest stories, written in the simplest language, have a kind of uneven texture that forces a reader to proceed slowly. One of Williams’s great themes is the dark underbelly of domestic life ... The Collected Stories of Diane Williams presents domesticity as foreign and contrived, as an arbitrary and risky way to organize one’s life. In their weirdest moments, these stories can feel unreal, disconnected from the texture of experience; at their best, their abandonment of logic can feel like liberation, as they lay bare the disjointedness and confusion that structure so much of reality ... Although she uses simple words—her prose has a kind of Dick-and-Jane quality—she arranges them in unusual ways. A reader can linger on each sentence, willing herself to comprehend it ... There’s an intensity to Williams’s early stories that is missing from some of her later work. Reading the first two collections produces a rush, as if one has just narrowly avoided some disaster ... This doesn’t mean that Williams, now in her early seventies, has grown complacent. She is still a restless writer, still committed to revealing all the ugly feelings within the functional person or the happy home.
Williams is a past master of the form, indeed, a cult author whose followers will be celebrating the arrival of this volume ... Williams is witty, incisive, and broad-ranging in her interests ... Unlike many examples in this genre [of flash fiction], these are fully formed ... Important for serious literature collections.
The book shows Williams’ experimental progress. She moves from sharp-edged micro-fiction into a realm beyond the borders of 'story' ... Exhaustion sets in. Williams’ stories are enchanting in small doses, but the sheer mass of this book devours human attention without yielding up the revelation that surely (surely!) must lurk just beneath the surface ... If we struggle with [the stories], will they reveal their secrets? They will not. Williams’ works wear masks: short story, flash fiction, micro-fiction, deliberately difficult poem. Yet even difficult poems yield up meaning to the dedicated reader. Collected Stories mocks persistence ... A little is delicious, a necessary palate-cleanser, but beyond that is a feast of the flesh of the mind, devouring itself and yielding up disorientation and the blank continuity of the lobotomized...
An omnibus of short-short fiction by sometimes-playful, sometimes-pensive avant-gardist Williams ... There’s Laurel and Hardy slapstick in there—and menace, too. Although a couple of the more Dada-ish moments don’t quite work and a couple of puns ('I want to end this at the flabber, although I am flabbergasted') seem forced, it’s altogether a pleasure for readers attentive to both language and story. Fans of flash fiction will want to study at the feet of this master of the form.