Diane Williams says we’re sort of fine
Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine is a 131-page collection of 40 stories, the longest of which is five pages. Diane Williams writes like there is only one breath of air to speak with before sinking to the bottom of the pool. Every word matters.
When the other editors and I started talking about what Demitasse would be, I found out that one of us had never even heard of flash fiction. I was then placed with a question I’d not often had to think of:
What is flash fiction, anyway?
A line from Williams’s story, “Specialist,” could be a suitable description of the form: “An hour passed. Why not say twenty years?”
Time is negligible and all-important in these stories.
The flash in this book is an excellent example of what large space can be occupied with a few words. “And isn’t looking into the near distance sometimes so quaint—as if I am re-embarking on a large number of relations or recurrent jealousies,” she writes in the first story of the collection, “Beauty, Love, and Vanity Itself.”
Williams is the editor and founder of literary annual NOON. So often contributors mention the cutting and slashing Williams does to their stories in the journal that I start to imagine what she does to her own work—but it’s actually hard to envision that these pieces ever existed in any larger space than what they inhabit now. They are infinite and minute, loud and mute. Each one is as delicately constructed as a sand mandala.
Sometimes it feels almost like we’re in another earth, where everyone is an observer and hardly ever speaks. No one says something unnecessary. Even the words people repeat resonate.
Then the man said, “I smell a bakery.”
“You said, ‘I smell a bakery’?”
“I smell it, too.”
“I hate it!” the man said.
“You said you hate it?”
The blunt edge of Williams’s language might be a bit difficult for some people to ease into, but once inside of it, it’s hard to want to leave. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a world where everyone meant what they said, and said what they meant? (Wouldn’t it? I’m trying to decide…)
In “The Romantic Life,” she writes: “I feel there is so much yet to explore about how people experience a ‘pull’ toward anyone.” The inexplicable feeling is what grabs at me in each of these stories.
My favorite piece in this collection, I think, is “Sigh.” We start when a man disrobes in someone else’s bedroom, soon finding out it belongs to his once-wife and her new husband. They drink tea together, the first husband changes into Spandex fitness apparel in the new husband’s room. The new husband invites him to stay the night. The two men mostly talk to each other, the woman trying to disrupt the strange interaction fleetingly, but ultimately seems to give up, disappearing from the dialog altogether. The whole scene plays out as awkwardly as it might in real life. The unexpected scene, and the unexpected response to that scene, are what Williams excels at in this collection.
Williams is often straightforward as a paring knife. There is no dancing unless there needs to be dancing. There is no redundancy unless it says something through redundancy.
Take, for instance, the lines the title of the collection stems out of: “How did all of this end? Oh, fine, fine, fine, fine, fine—although our process of digestion—they’d served us kartoffelpuffer and sauerbraten—was not yet complete—when the husband said finally about his wife, ‘Bettie’s tired.’” And, four paragraphs later:
“Bettie’s tired,” the husband repeated.
“I am tired,” Bettie said.
And there was no polite way for him to tell us,“Fuck off now.”
Every word, every punctuation mark in these stories has purpose. Sometimes the grammar feels strange, the syntax unsettling, but this adds to the humanity of it all. The characters feel like real people I’ve had small interactions with while waiting in line to get coffee too early in the morning. Williams gets right to the center of what they’re trying to say or not say, in a way that’s so awfully human.
You can purchase Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine here.
Diane Williams is the author of Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, a collection of flash fiction. She is also the founder and editor of NOON Annual, a renowned literary journal.