At first glance something between a child’s primer and a collection of tales from the asylum, Williams’s latest (The Stupefaction, 1996, etc.) builds on her reputation as the foremost advocate of “flash fiction” with 39 quick and nimble stories and 3 novellas, offering everything from body parts to loaded questions. “May I please rape you?” ends the story “Tony,” although it’s not quite clear who’s asking. In “Is It Possible to Imagine a More Perfect Thing,” the setting is more familial, but no less strange: “My hat is better than my mother’s shoes, yet her shoes are better than these socks. My hands are better than her wristwatch.” The endless possibilities of love and copulation occupy considerable space throughout, from the quietly domestic “The missus at the foot of my chair reclines and she opens her legs so I will pet her,” in “It Can Take Years to Remain,” to a more sustained view of illicit engagement in the title novella, where, in a city by the River Urine, the Musgrave family hosts a rather randy guest who covets the boys and services the father, but not without a splash of wit: “He passes himself to me, under my gown, internally and so forth, and when my bladder’s neck is unavoidably compressed, I feel desire.”
So it goes—a quip here, a chilling remark there, but the depictions are uniformly of life on the edge, where meaning crumbles and angels fear to tread.