Issue No. 192

“Many times I feel the prickle of a nearby, unseen force I ought to pay attention to.”

When I read this sentence in Diane Williams’s new book Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, I recalled yet again how much I love Diane Williams. I loved her work from the first story I read back in 1998. I wasn’t cautiously interested, coming to it slowly and falling in love bit by bit; I loved it ferociously on first contact. I memorized full stories of hers (there is one I can still recite most of today). I wrote her my first real fan letter. I treasured every life detail that I learned about her. She was so important to my development as a writer that her work and her person have been fully integrated into my soul and are a part of me, part of the permanent filter I see through. The Williams lens.

I think I loved the work so passionately because as I read I could hear a murmur that I recognized faintly, one that I’d heard before but never clearly. A murmur that said: Don’t listen to them. Listen to me. Life and art are peculiar. Life and art respect and embrace the error, the asymmetrical. It is lonely to be an error, but it is yours. It is mine!

Still today I read her work and hear this message. They give me shivers of recognition. “To Revive a Person Is No Slight Thing” is no exception. This small quiet story is of a woman putting together an average dinner and eating with her husband. But Williams is expert at turning the calm and ordinary into the classical: the private surprise that one has found oneself in a fresh life, sitting with a “new spouse” (a phrase that implies both newness and familiarity). I read this and I feel the drums thrumming, the effort of revival, of coming back to life, after God-knows-what. Not in a dramatic way—not snakes and tongues, roll away the rock—but in the simplest, smallest, most beautiful manner: “How unlikely it was that our home was alight and that the dinner meal was served.”

Deb Olin Unferth
Author of Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War

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To Revive a Person Is No Slight Thing

by Diane Williams

Recommended by Deb Olin Unferth

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People often wait a long time and then, like me, suddenly, they’re back in the news with a changed appearance.

Now I have fuzzy gray hair. I am pointing at it. It’s like baby
hair I am told.

Two people once said I had pretty feet.

I ripped off some leaves and clipped stem ends, with my new spouse, from a spray of fluorescent daisies he’d bought for me, and I asserted something unpleasant just then.

Yes, the flowers were cheerful with aggressive petals, but in a few days I’d hate them when they were spent.

The wrapping paper and a weedy mess had to be discarded, but first off thrust together. My job.

Who knows why the dog thought to follow me up the stairs.

Tufts of the dog’s fur, all around his head, serve to distinguish him. It’s as if he wears a military cap. He is dour sometimes and I have been deeply moved by what I take to be the dog’s deep concerns.

Often I pick him up—stop him mid-swagger. He didn’t like it today and he pitched himself out of my arms.

Drawers were open in the bedroom.

Many times I feel the prickle of a nearby, unseen force I ought to pay attention to.

I turned and saw my husband standing naked, with his clothes folded in his hands.

Unbudgeable—but finally springing into massive brightness—is how I prefer to think of him.

Actually, he said in these exact words: “I don’t like you very much and I don’t think you’re fascinating.” He put his clothes on, stepped out of the room.

I walked out, too, out onto the rim of our neighborhood—into the park where I saw a lifeless rabbit—ears askew. As if prompted, it became a small waste bag with its tied-up loose ends in the air.

A girl made a spectacle of herself, also, by stabbing at her front teeth with the tines of a plastic fork. Perhaps she was prodding dental wires and brackets, while an emaciated man at her side fed rice into his mouth from a white-foam square container, at top speed, crouched—swallowing at infrequent intervals.

In came my husband to say, “Diane?” when I went home.

“I am trying,” I said, “to think of you in a new way. I’m not sure what—how that is.”

A fire had been lighted, drinks had been set out. Raw fish had been dipped into egg and bread crumbs and then sautéed. A small can of shoe polish was still out on the kitchen counter. We both like to keep our shoes shiny.

How unlikely it was that our home was alight and that the dinner meal was served. I served it—our desideratum. The bread was dehydrated.

I planned my future—that is, what to eat first—but not yet next and last—tap, tapping.

My fork struck again lightly at several mounds of yellow vegetables.

The dog was upright, slowly turning in place, and then he settled down into the shape of a wreath—something, of course, he’d thought of himself, but the decision was never extraordinary.

And there is never any telling how long it will take my husband, if he will not hurry, to complete his dinner fare or to smooth out left-behind layers of it on the plate.

“Are you all right?” he asked me—“Finished?”

He loves spicy food, not this. My legs were stiff and my knees ached.

I gave him a nod, made no apologies. Where were his?

I didn’t cry some.

I must say that our behavior is continually under review and any one error alters our prestige, but there’ll be none of that lifting up mine eyes unto the hills.


About the Author

Diane Williams is the author of eight books, including a collection of her selected stories. She is also the founder and editor of the literary annual NOON, the archive of which, as well as Williams’s personal literary archive, was acquired in 2014 by the Lilly Library at Indiana University. She lives in New York City.

About the Guest Editor

Deb Olin Unferth is the author of three books. Her fourth is forthcoming from Graywolf Press.

About Recommended Reading

Recommended Reading is the weekly fiction magazine of Electric Literature, publishing here and on Tumblr every Wednesday morning. In addition to featuring our own recommendations of original, previously unpublished fiction, we invite established authors, indie presses, and literary magazines to recommended great work from their pages, past and present. To receive a weekly email with the latest Recommended Reading as well as other links from Electric Literature, sign up for our eNewsletter.

“To Revive a Person Is No Slight Thing” by Diane Williams is excerpted from Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine by permission of Mcsweeney’s. Copyright © 2016 Diane Williams.

3 Responses

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