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Diane Williams: Two Stories and an Interview

Editor’s Note: By way of an introduction, we’ve included two previously unpublished stories by Diane Williams, ‘Beauty, Love and Vanity Itself’ and ‘Velvety’.

Beauty, Love and Vanity Itself

As usual I’d hung myself with snappy necklaces, but otherwise had given my appearance no further thought, even though I anticipated the love of a dark person who will be my source of prosperity and emotional pleasure.

Mr. Morton arrived about seven p.m. and I said, ‘I owe you an explanation.’

 

‘Excellent,’ he replied. But when my little explanation was completed, he refused the meal I offered, saying, ‘You probably don’t like the way I drink my soda or how I eat olives with my fingers, do you?’

 

I only wish I could be so smooth.

 

He exited at a good clip and nothing further developed from that affiliation.

 

I remain prayerful – Praise be to Thee, Praise be to Thou.  Nothing fancy.

 

Understand I am not that needy, but I am greedy and it would be snobbish to refuse anything.  Even a polite refusal might be viewed as ungrateful, for example: ‘I just don’t think he will make me happy’ or ‘I must decline this type of jam because it contains high fructose corn syrup.’

 

The real thing did come along. Bob – Tom spent several days in June with me. He always said, ‘How do we do?’ when I met him and as so often happens in life, I also kept up with books and magazines and went along the funny path pursuing my vocation.

 

I also went outside to enjoy the fragrant odour in an Illinois town and went along the thoroughfare that swerved near the fence where yellow roses on a tawny background faded out at the end of the season.

 

I never thought a big cloud hanging in the air would be crooked, but it was up there – grey and deranged.

 

The fence was making the most of its colonial post caps, patterns of diagonals and its big swaying, double-walk gate.

 

I should go whole hog, I thought to myself, and go through the wide entryway quickly.

 

And isn’t looking into the near distance sometimes so quaint? — as if I am re-embarking on my large number of love affairs, recurrent jealousies, an occupational change, legal action — or I am right back consuming again last night’s hash.

 

For the rest of the time I was poolside at The Marriott Courtyard, wearing what others may laugh at — the knee-length black swimsuit and the black canvas shoes — but I don’t have actual belly fat, that’s just my stomach muscles gone slack.

 

I saw three women go into the pool and when they got to the rope, they kept on walking.  One woman disappeared.  The other two flapped their hands.

 

‘They don’t know what the rope is,’ the lifeguard said. ‘I mean everybody knows what a rope means.’

 

I said, ‘Why didn’t you tell them?’ and he said, ‘I don’t speak Chinese.’

 

I said, ‘They are drowning’ and the lifeguard said, ‘You know I think you’re right.’

 

More needs to be said.  Let me tell you where all eyes and minds are for the moment on the surface.

 

For my part I would let that alone and how relieved I was.  I am.

 

 

 

Velvety

 

She carried her own bundle of food into the dull outside and she knew she’d find him by a tree.

A man said, ‘Why are you here?’ and she greeted Caspar.

 

Her own shabby experiment was to touch Caspar, much like deciding what to put between her two pieces of bread.  She never gave it enough thought.

 

‘Don’t touch me!’ he shouted. ‘You must be crazy! Are you crazy?’

 

For the readjustment – for the supposititious resuscitation – but that is crazy!  Supposititious! It is too crazy a word!

 

For she had intended to keep – to meet up with Caspar in the parkland, near the pair of trees, to come to a reconciliation by degrees, to express the long way to go.

 

She had carried her own picnic fixings – the rolled and the ribbon sandwiches – and she had found Caspar as predicted, chatting with his friends beneath the hornbeams.

 

He had such nice flesh – Caspar. His pupils were dilated and a man named Arthur had taken her arm, turned her around, and patted her on the head.

 

She and Caspar, what a bond they had had! – plenty of everything had come of it, including a temper for him that was even more violent than hers.

 

How she came again to the flame of Caspar’s candle and perched unevenly on its burning wick – this was another day’s discovery.  She found him in Big Y Foods – with his jar of Reese Jellied Mint Sauce and the vanilla extract.

 

Her own new brand of experiment was to do something else of consequence about him.

 

The light outside was still poor – and the darkness had begun falling in one-layer thin sheets out in the street.

 

This time Caspar had a please-come-back-to-me shirt on and a you’re-my-favourite-person pair of trousers.  Such friendly messages were also abundant in the eye frames and in his footwear.

 

She picked up a cauliflower, but she did not say a word to Caspar, who turned away.

 

A drawback.  But Caspar had been deliberating over the potatoes and handed one over to her. He said, ‘Here. You’ll need this much more than I do.’

 

This was a ruby crescent – a low-starch sort – with rose-coloured skin, a slender shape, distinct eyes and a certain melts-in-your-mouth capacity.  She had put herself forward, taken all her licks, that is – the risks and she has been voluptuously deserted.

 

And, she has gone on researching one way and yet another to keep on upending the dilemma of the end of her love story.

 

 

Q

The White Review

— How do you strike a balance between capturing the freedom of the spoken sentence while honing the craft of writing a sentence?

A

Diane Williams

— Often the spoken sentence is filled with remarkable poetry.  This is especially the case if the speaker is passionate about her subject. One is lucky to have access to a trove of voices – to listen in to oneself and to others during these inspired moments and to remember! More often, I must manufacture text.  And that is the task of being a writer – composition.

Q

The White Review

— This intimacy between the words in the sentences you create is most definitely present, but your characters’ pursuit of intimacy is persistently challenged and subverted. What does intimacy mean to you?

A

Diane Williams

— The pursuit of intimacy is relatively hopeless in life and is also dangerous. But, I think in literature, as in all art, there is the opportunity to be deeply in life. I am always dreaming of the ideal fiction. In this free realm any subject can be addressed. Shame must not intrude.

Q

The White Review

— Many of your characters feel as though they can’t necessarily fully express themselves, alienated in these domestic settings that you put them in.

A

Diane Williams

— You’re right, it’s exhausting to mask and to mute ourselves.

Q

The White Review

— Most of your stories are based in domestic locations – what’s so attractive about such a setting?

A

Diane Williams

— I am usually in a domestic setting – sitting here doing my work.  I should get out more. It’s also my own insufficiency; I’m not good with maps or finding my way around. I guess I reside in my mind most of the time – it’s just my temperament.

Q

The White Review

— There is a line from a story in Some Sexual Success Stories – ‘This is when Nature itself has been stripped bare of its cosy personality and we all feel homeless in our own natures as well.’ I think this accurately summarises one of the prevailing aspects of your stories: despite most of the action being set in domestic spaces most of the time, your subjects never feel quite ‘at home’.

A

Diane Williams

— I don’t think I’d be happy if I were clear about everything that ends up on the page.  I’d like to get beyond what I know as far as I can.  I have a sentimental idea of home – it’s friendly and familiar. In my fiction I like to provide some mystery, a place to meditate, where I might be nearing a new insight, if in fact I haven’t reached it.

Q

The White Review

— Infidelity is a recurring theme in your stories – particularly in the novella On Sexual Strength – and I find it interesting that in ‘Adultery’,  Laura Kipnis says, ‘It means imagining – as adulterers so often do – that you can do it differently, that you can engineer through sheer will, a different moral and affective universe.’

A

Diane Williams

— Infidelity has been an inescapable subject for me. The fantasy of security is difficult to relinquish, as are the notions of invincibility and recklessness.

Q

The White Review

— The physical movements, positioning and intricacies of the culturally and morally assumed ‘private parts’ of the body are frequently explored in your stories – bowel movements, vaginas that can talk, dogs wearing condoms, penises that women wish were in them all of the time. What draws you to these details?

A

Diane Williams

— I write about what I can’t speak about.

Q

The White Review

— There is a recurring fluidity between objects and subjects in your stories that I am very interested in – husbands going through the laundry to find their wives, children needing to be chopped down like branches from a tree and clouds being full of pride. How do you view these relationships in your stories?

A

Diane Williams

— You’re right, there is blurring. I remember very early in life going forward toward a chair like this easy chair (she pats the chair she is sitting on), putting my face into it, and embracing it, and getting the kind of consolation that a person might expect in a parent’s embrace – my chair, my mother. The confusion prevails in our speech, too – I have to get my coffee. I want my mother. People and things are being scrambled.  My mind’s quite messy.

Q

The White Review

— In some of your stories you also turn to dogs and animals, the best example being the stories ‘The Dog’, followed by ‘The Man’. What kind of role do animals play in your stories?

A

Diane Williams

— Well, I may not know too much about that. I like those two stories you cite very much, and have often read the pair of them publicly. I did have a dear pet when I was girl… I admired him so much – his out-sized zest and craziness that I didn’t see advanced by anyone else.

Q

The White Review

— Does consumer culture have an influence on how you present the subject to the reader?

A

Diane Williams

— Yes, but I wouldn’t want to imply that the influence is entirely negative.  Objects can save us.  I might need a certain trinket, for instance, and it may save me for a day, a month… Objects obviously have power.

Q

The White Review

— How do you feel about this sense of ‘zooming out’, this acknowledgement of the bigger picture, the world outside the characters’ window? How important is it to you to create a sense of elsewhere?

A

Diane Williams

— I’d like to go back and forth in time and place and thought – to change perspectives, but, nonetheless, maintain coherence. I try.

Q

The White Review

— Use of the negative also creates the sense of a bigger picture. By listing aspects that are not present the reader is forced to imagine these aspects existing elsewhere – just not where we are right now. Would you say that a presence of absence is integral to your stories?

A

Diane Williams

— This is and was a tactic of mine, to refute or to undo the given.  Let’s just see what this is like.

Q

The White Review

— Where does your fascination with language, particularly rhyme, stem from and what do you think it achieves?

A

Diane Williams

— What it achieves? It’s pleasurable.  It’s human nature, I think, to enjoy echoes and refrains.

Q

The White Review

— You often use idiomatic phrasing in your stories, for example, ‘for all intents and purposes’, ‘I’m going to give credit where credit is due’, ‘I lay no claim’. Can you tell me a little more about this fascination with habitual language?

A

Diane Williams

— Ah, clichés. I try to be vigilant, to police for these. I hope there’s a fresh context, when they invade. On the other hand such phrases as ‘let me tell you’ and ‘at any rate’ and ‘at length she’… I love these. While moving along new terrain, it’s nice to have comforting pauses along the way and to hear a kind voice – ‘Don’t worry. I think you’ve been here before. You’ll be able to manage.’

Q

The White Review

— How important is it for you to make yourself known as the writer in your stories?

A

Diane Williams

— If I introduce my own name, this raises the stakes for me, causes a shudder.  It’s frightening.  Fright can be very productive. I work harder.

Q

The White Review

— For a more experimental writer such as yourself, how do you find the current literary climate in America?
A

Diane Williams

— Marketers, sadly, need categories. I never use the term ‘experimental.’ I hate it. Literary art needs a more substantial welcome and protection in contemporary America.  I founded the fiction annual NOON in 2000 to support serious writers.  NOON is now flourishing and I am delighted.
 

 



ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR


Diane Williams is a fiction writer and founding editor of the literary annual NOON. Her latest collection, Vicky Swanky Is a Beauty, was published by McSweeney's in 2012.



Harriet Pittard is a London-based writer and singer. She holds an MA in Modern & Contemporary Literature from Birkbeck.


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