From Publishers Weekly
"To live was like being an honored guest," muses a teenage girl whose mother is dying. While death, loss and the likelihood of losing touch with reality are the focus of these 12 short stories by Williams, the elusive possibility of hope and mental well-being waits in the shadows, maybe even just within reach. Williams's deliciously fallible characters are often unfazed by their erratic behavior and violent eruptions. At work one day, a widowed masseuse in "Hammer" snaps her prosperous client's wrist bone without provocation. In "Charity," Richard refuses to stop for a needy family despite Janice's pleas. When he gets out of the car for gas, "Janice moved across the seat quickly, grasped the wheel and drove off," returning to the family and perhaps losing Richard forever. Williams's grasp of the slippery line between life and death is strong: she jars the reader with news of a debilitating accident or a fatality without a breath of forewarning. Her characters speak like poets or philosophers ("Words at night were feral things"), and her prose is imaginative and dynamic (a woman obsessed with visiting a mental institution prowls the halls, pretending "she was a virus, wandering without aim through someone's body"). Though some of her more absurd tales may perplex, discriminating readers will be greatly satisfied with this rich, darkly humorous and provocative collection.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* The troubled characters in Williams' latest short stories, set in locales as diverse as Maine and Mexico, don't have the wherewithal to do anything but brood, with the exception of a forensic anthropologist who solves the mysteries of scattered bones, hair, and teeth, a feat not unlike the one Williams pulls off in these canny and dissecting tales of fractured lives. A celebrated novelist and blazing essayist, Williams is in commandingly fine form as she channels her electrifying vision of a damaged, off-kilter world into a dozen edgy tales of sorrow and stoicism, sheer eccentricity and wild incompetence. In the title story, a teenager trapped in a hellish limbo as her mother nears death is told about an aboriginal people who treat a ritualistically captured and caged bear as an honored guest until it's time to torture and sacrifice him. This becomes the mordantly existential collection's reigning metaphor, as Williams portrays loners and misfits, abused animals, and children who suffer as adults divorce, disappear, go broke, go crazy, get sick, and commit suicide. Williams' wit is serpentine, her parsing of our ignorance of the true nature of life on Earth urgent, and her storytelling transforming as she marvels over life's tenacity and humankind's weirdness and fitful grace. Donna SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved