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Diane Williams keeps it brief and intense with ‘Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine’

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Chuck Twardy

Four stars

Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine By Diane Williams, $20.

Here’s the thing about Diane Williams’ short stories: They’re really short. Extremely short, in some cases—as in, a paragraph or so. As in, I could reprint the entire story here.

Another crucial fact about her latest book, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine: It’s a good thing these stories are short, because at anything resembling a normal length for a short story, say 5,000 words, you’d get so frustrated with the failure of the story to resolve into anything that you might pitch your e-reader across the room.

Am I panning Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine? Not at all. Maybe I’d settle for four Fines out of five, but I find these intensely taut, fraught little tales refreshing. They are surreal, but not Kafkaesque, or even Murakami-like. People do not perform impossible activities, experience bizarre events or even say absurd things, so much as they inhabit little worlds of highly condensed experience, all described in the conventional prose of a novel about middle-aged, middle-class people somehow failing to thrive. They pace through plots like expertly crafted androids plagued by software glitches.

In some cases, the episodes described seem to have entire novels crammed into them, the characters performing hypertrophied versions of themselves. For instance, the couple in “Lamb Chops, Cod” who dress up for ordinary dining: “They would playact around the occasion of having dinner. I’m not sure, but I’m afraid they did it for every dinner.” Or the couple in “Clarinda,” who, like others in these stories, meet, make accommodations for and with each other, and accept. “One aspect of the situation is that it would soon seem to be normal,” Williams concludes.

And if they settle for less in life, it might be because they are missing too much of it, willfully or unwittingly. “Many times I feel the prickle of a nearby, unseen force I ought to pay attention to,” says the narrator of “To Revive a Person Is No Slight Thing,” who next notices her husband in the hallway. In many of these stories, perplexing sensations are too easily ignored.

In “Flying Things,” the patrons in a place called Bucky’s make and break connections. Their lives, like others in Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, seem tenuous and superficial. The story ends: “But life isn’t quite like that.” Except that too often it is.

For more by Chuck Twardy, visit chucktwardy.com.

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