Vicky Swanky Is a Beauty by Diane Williams | Book review
Diane Williams’s new book of stories is the best kind of crazy.
Here’s a Diane Williams story: “Now I have a baby boy and a five-year-old girl. Being married, I thought I’d always be married to Wayne because he tried to be perfect. What more could he ask for?”
That’s the story, “Human Being,” in its entirety. The brevity, subtle playfulness of “Wayne…tried to be perfect. What more could he ask for?” and the perfect title are all hallmarks of Williams’s work. Most of the stories in this new collection from McSweeney’s don’t last more than a couple of pages, and some are as short as a cough. And, like “Human Being,” many deal with an inexact sense of loss, a bereavement over one’s failed expectations.
But then, there are the stories in which the narrator seems in such a fevered state, the events are bent in such a way as to be inscrutable and secondary. In “If Told Correctly It Will Center on Me,” the story begins with the narrator pretending to bite a man named Jack on the head, while “also walling darker areas.” It ends with: “I heard the door next door making a good imitation of what my asthma attacks sound like. Everyone is sounding like me! Don’t forget me!” Whatever the hell is going on in this story, it does read as a potent distillation of self-fascination and -loathing, and the cluelessness that mixture instills.
Though in form, Williams’s writing most resembles the work of Lydia Davis, the former’s is a much wilder beast. There is such velocity to this book in which, like a top-secret message, each story seems to self-destruct at the end, and the reader is propelled into the next one.