‘Ninety-Nine Stories of God’ by Joy Williams (2016) – 131 pages
First it must be said that Joy Williams finds God in unusual places, a hot dog eating contest, an aquarium in Berlin, a drive-by shooting of a child, a short-haired dog who saves a newborn baby abandoned in Kenya.
As the title indicates, here are 99 stories of God. These are not stories about a human representation of God. Rather the stories are subtle and not-so-subtle situations which bring the question of a God to the fore. ‘Ninety-Nine Stories of God’ is very much a minimalist work as we have 99 stories spread over less than 150 pages. Some of the stories are two pages, some only a page, some just a sentence.
I like the concept of the very short story but was disappointed somewhat by its execution here. I felt the style of the writing of the sentences was just not varied or lively enough for me to get enthusiastic about these stories. There is a droning quality to the writing style that just did not put these stories across for me. What was missing for me was a clever and/or interesting voice telling these stories. Instead we get unending sparseness which only makes the individual stories seem dry. These very short stories are already sparse enough without a minimal style making them even more meager. The style of writing is plain and workmanlike rather than sparkling and brilliant like these short little vignettes ought to have been.
Before reading this, I have read and been favorably impressed by several of the fictions of Joy Williams including ‘State OF Grace’, ‘The Quick and the Dead’, and the short stories of ‘Taking Care’. She originally was considered one of the literary minimalists along with Raymond Carver, Ann Beattie, Tobias Wolff, Mary Robison, and others. As such her work was characterized by an economy of words, simplicity, and directness. Joy Williams was known for throwing comedy into the mix.
Certainly there is irony and humor in some of these short short stories. There is one very short story called “Museum” which contains only the following sentence: “We were not interested the way we thought we would be interested.” I know I have had that experience in a museum, and you probably have too. And maybe there is room for God somewhere in there too. Joy Williams has a very broad interpretation of God which I do like.
The entire ‘Ninety-Nine Stories of God’ does not take much time to read, and rather than relying on my rather lukewarm opinion, you might just want to read it for yourself and draw your own conclusions.