BookBrowse Reviews Ninety-Nine Stories of God by Joy Williams

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Ninety-Nine Stories of God

by Joy Williams

Ninety-Nine Stories of God by Joy Williams X
Ninety-Nine Stories of God by Joy Williams
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2016, 220 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2018, 220 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Davida Chazan
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A series of short, fictional vignettes explores our day-to-day interactions with an ever-elusive and arbitrary God.

I have to preface this review by saying that I am not a fan of religious fiction - not even books about my own religion. However, what intrigued me about Ninety-Nine Stories of God was that, through humor and a fable-like form, it explores the absurdities of life. It is a collection of very short vignettes - some no more than a paragraph or sentence long - that look at the world with a unique viewpoint.

Of course, some of these stories depict the Lord (Joy Williams' word choice) in certain unusual situations – the Lord participates in a hotdog-eating contest in one, and in a discussion with a pharmacist regarding getting a shingles vaccination in another. However, many of them seem to have nothing to do with anything even remotely related to a deity, or even touch on either faith or belief at all. There are almost no stories that seem to promote any particular religion or sect, and in this way, Williams almost completely avoids sounding preachy.

I have to admit that I'm not sure if I understood the meanings behind all these vignettes. Some of them do seem obvious, making the reader laugh or just nod a head in understanding; but more often than not, these scraps are puzzling. Some are somewhat oddly composed, with trains of thought that lead to something that the initial part of the story doesn't even hint at. Others seem enlightening, or feel deeply profound, even when I wasn't completely sure what it is I should be thinking about after I read them. Furthermore, I find it fascinating that instead of giving each of the stories a title, Williams numbers them, but then also leaves a few words in all caps at the end of each piece, almost as an afterthought. It seems to me that Williams is indicating that she doesn't want to reveal anything at the outset of each vignette; instead, she wants a little emphasis, or guide, to hit the reader at the end. That Williams does all this with the simplest usage of language is quite a notable feat. (Mind you, she does throw in a few words here and there that I had to look up.)

While reading this collection, it occurred to me that precisely because these vignettes are so bewildering, people will probably want to re-read this book, perhaps even several times. And since the text is so sparse, making it a very fast read, the idea of going back over passages isn't at all a daunting one.

It also struck me that this could end up being a very controversial book. I can honestly say that Ninety-Nine Stories of God feels non-denominational overall, but I can imagine there will be people who might see some of the vignettes as anti-religion or even anti-Christian. But as I said, I felt like this book is more like a compilation of fairy tale-like stories, written for today's fast-moving information and digital age (see Beyond the Book). One way or another, there is quite a lot here that will appeal to both the spiritual and the secular public, no matter their religious background (or lack thereof).

Reviewed by Davida Chazan

This review was originally published in August 2016, and has been updated for the September 2018 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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