A New York Times Notable Book and a Best Book of the Year at Esquire, Seattle Times, Minnesota Star Tribune, Huffington Post, and Publishers Weekly.
From “quite possibly America’s best living writer of short stories” (NPR), Ninety-Nine Stories of God finds Joy Williams reeling between the sublime and the surreal, knocking down the barriers between the workaday and the divine.
Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist Joy Williams has a one-of-a-kind gift for capturing both the absurdity and the darkness of everyday life. In Ninety-Nine Stories of God, she takes on one of mankind’s most confounding preoccupations: the Supreme Being.
This series of short, fictional vignettes explores our day-to-day interactions with an ever-elusive and arbitrary God. It’s the Book of Common Prayer as seen through a looking glass—a powerfully vivid collection of seemingly random life moments. The figures that haunt these stories range from Kafka (talking to a fish) to the Aztecs, Tolstoy to Abraham and Sarah, O. J. Simpson to a pack of wolves. Most of Williams’s characters, however, are like the rest of us: anonymous strivers and bumblers who brush up against God in the least expected places or go searching for Him when He’s standing right there. The Lord shows up at a hot-dog-eating contest, a demolition derby, a formal gala, and a drugstore, where he’s in line to get a shingles vaccination. At turns comic and yearning, lyric and aphoristic, Ninety-Nine Stories of God serves as a pure distillation of one of our great artists.
In Williams's hands (The Visiting Privilege), a "story of God" can apparently be almost anything. Her slender new collection includes in its 99 stories pithy flash-fiction pieces about mothers, wives, writers, and dogs, anecdotes from the lives of Tolstoy and Kafka, newspaper clipping like meditations on O.J. Simpson and Ted Kaczynski, conversational asides (the story "Museum" consists entirely of the line "We were not interested the way we thought we would be interested"), and, finally, actual stories about God a particularly put-upon, bewildered God who seems to have lost the thread of his creation somewhere along the line. Here, the Holy Ghost is just as likely to alight in a slaughterhouse as to visit a demolition derby or appear to William James or Simone Weil, both of whom have their own brush with transcendence. The best of Williams's humor, and her wonderful feel for characters, is present in pieces such as "Elephants Never Forget God," in which James Agee describes a movie he'd like to make, or "Giraffe," in which an aging gardener suddenly feels the presence of the divine. Somewhere in the neighborhood of Jim Harrison's Letters to Yesenin, these stories are 100% Williams: funny, unsettling, and mysterious, to be puzzled over and enjoyed across multiple readings.