An aptly titled collection of 15 short stories whose characters can be rather prickly indeed.
Williams sets a number of his stories in the Southwest, both on and off Native American reservations, and we frequently sense nostalgia there. In “The Great Black Shape in the Water,” the opening story, the narrator takes pride in his mother’s strength, for she was able to lift the tail flukes of a beach-stranded whale. She was a member of the Quihwa tribe in Washington state, a band that by the end of the story we’re informed no longer existed. Like many of the narratives in the collection, this is a story about stories, about storytelling and even about myth-making. “Morsel” features a very different narrator, a college dropout spending the summer alone at her family’s cabin and working as a hostess at a local restaurant. She falls desperately in love with Sean, the twice-married chef who provides her with leftover food and plenty of physical affection. Unfortunately, she finds out he’s rather indiscriminate in sharing that affection with others, though by the end of the story she’s no less in love with him. In “Grey,” Williams further focuses on the tension between loneliness and relationships. Here, a college professor shares his love of the ancient Greek poet Archilochus, as well as his sexual favors, with his students. On hearing of the death by breast cancer of a former professor of his, he recalls a time when he was 20 and had an affair with this professor as she was teaching him to love Archilochus’ poetry. “The Limousine in My Life” is a brilliant portrait of the 1950s, when the narrator has childhood memories of live nuclear tests, of tract housing, of his mother’s anger when his father came home one evening having bought a “limousine” in the form of a 1949 Dodge Coronado.
Williams has a facility for getting inside characters and exposing their essential isolation and loneliness.