I held my breath while I read these stories. Eley Williams’ Attrib. and Other Stories leaves you stunned, or speechless, or rather, stunned into speech. Whatever the inverse or obverse may be — the reading experience fills your head with the wordiness of words, their meanings slipping and skittering off into the corners, and you’re left pondering how the consonants tasted.
Some stories are sketches, with characters turning words over in their heads, gauging their mouthfeel, drawing them out into the light. To me it seems an apt image for what Williams does: promiscuously mixing metaphors, delightfully stress-testing words, to see if they break or bend. Like damming a river to watch it spill and what if it did.
In some pieces the narrative, all paragraphed and indented proper, breaks into line breaks without telegraphing the reader. (Things I prefer neat: bookshelves, whiskey, the border between poetry and prose except for prose poems, which makes no sense but I am irrationally biased that way.)
And yet “Alight at the Next,” to select just one example, is one of my favorites because I read these breakouts into poetry as some sort of controlled irrepressibility, reflecting “the whole cadence of my composed speech set to work in time with the slowing of the Tube train,” as the narrator thinks.
All throughout is a veritable Joycean eruption, one flowing over our own hyperactive modernity: puns, slips of the tongue, hesitations, and an obsessive untrammeling and unbuckling of words and sentences and even (in “The Alphabet”) the letters themselves, their loops and serifs. Even in the more conventional stories, song lyrics derail the trains of thought; hedgehogs float in a backyard pool like punctuation marks.
It all feels messy and a little out of control and you think the writer has lost the plot until you realize you have been glamored by the grammar, fooled by “the tricksiness of language,” as it says on the tin; this is masterful shit, wiry and high-wire, this is serious serious play.