Summary and book reviews of Ninety-Nine Stories of God by Joy Williams

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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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Jul 2016, 220 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Davida Chazan

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Book Summary

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.

58

You should have changed if you wanted to remain yourself but you were afraid to change.

SARTRE TO CAMUS

59

"I want chiseled features," she said. "I would be so happy."

We were volunteers digging up fountain grass at the Ironwood Forest National Monument. Those were the first words she'd spoken. She was round and pale and not tall.

"You can get them," I said.

"Really?"

"Plastic surgery. Sure."

"They don't call it plastic surgery anymore," she said. "The Devil's going to be on TV tonight at seven. KGUN. It's not generally known but a fact nonetheless."

"Excuse me," I said. I moved away from her toward an old man chopping at a large clump of big, plump, vigorous, adaptable fountain grass with a hoe. But I left him shortly as well, fearing he might have a heart attack in the heat. He would have been offended by my concern, I felt. He probably wanted to die in the desert anyway, one of those people who wanted to die a clean, hard death in the desert.

He didn't ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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. 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).

Full Review (528 words).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [T]hese stories are 100% Williams: funny, unsettling, and mysterious, to be puzzled over and enjoyed across multiple readings.

Booklist

Starred Review. Much like the divine, Williams' prose is simple and brutal, thoughtful and haunting. A spare but startling book.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Admirers of Williams - and anyone who treasures a story well told should be one - will find much to like here.

Author Blurb Chuck Palahniuk, author of Choke and Fight Club
I would follow the trail of Joy Williams's words - always beautiful, compelling, and so wise - anywhere they led.

Author Blurb Amy Hempel, author of At The Gates of the Animal Kingdom
These modern fables and skewed vignettes make the implausible plausible. Compression, as done by Joy Williams, extends the reach of her stories.

Author Blurb Jerry Stahl, author of Permanent Midnight
Joy Williams's Ninety-Nine Stories of God reads like a blog-era bible as conceived by Borges, Barthelme, and Mark Twain. No writer alive captures the voices in the post-millennial psychic wilderness like Joy Williams.

Author Blurb Karen Russell, author of Vampires In The Lemon Grove
The word count of this slender, extraordinary collection belies the density and combustibility of its contents, their midnight hilarity and edgeless reach. Joy Williams is our feral philosopher.

Author Blurb Edmund White, author of A Boy's Own Story
These stories are as full of surprises as a Noah's Ark filled with mystical beasts, three of each.

Author Blurb Darcey Steinke, author of Sister Golden Hair
Each story, like living tissue, is a reliquary that makes something splendid of our most secret agonies and desires.

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Fairy Tales and Fiction

I noted in my review of Joy Williams' Ninety-Nine Stories of God that it felt like a compilation of fairy tales. But then I began to wonder why I felt that way. On closer inspection, I perhaps learned why.

Warwick Goble's Beauty and the BeastFiction, of course, is not factual, even if the writer uses known facts in order to mirror reality. Writers make things up; they invent people, they give them conflicts to resolve and obstacles to overcome, they build relationships and scenarios, and then they weave all of these imaginary elements together. Using this definition, one might say that fiction and fairy tales are synonymous. Fairy tales fall under the broad definition of fiction, particularly if we look at genres such as fantasy, horror and science fiction. But what ...

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