Attrib. and Other Stories, by Eley Williams

Finding an author with a vocabulary as extensive and creative a vocabulary as Eley Williams is a treat. That vocabulary is on full display in Williams’ collection, Attrib. and Other Stories. Most of the stories here feature characters who are drowning in sensations and love, so much so that Williams’ words are put to spectacular use describing what many of us think of as indescribable emotions.

The lack of names and action—and the repetition of motifs like starlings—makes it hard to distinguish between the stories. This sounds like a criticism, but it really isn’t. I admit that most of the time I’m reading for character and plot but, with this collection, I got to revel in the waves of words Williams unleashes. Instead of plots, the stories here tend to center on moments in which the characters are overwhelmed or nearly overwhelmed by colors, sounds, loss, and especially love. Over the course of the collection, we meet a Foley artist who is trying to find the right sound to evoke the Creation of Eve, a child who gets lost trying to identify all the colors in people’s eyes, a Tube passenger trapped in an embarrassing moment, a lover who meditates on bees and birds just after waking.

After so many books where my attention was firmly fixed on what happens next, reading Attrib. and Other Stories was a refreshing experience. I had to slow down my reading pace and pay close attention to the word choice and even the punctuation, as the prose sometimes slides in and out of poetry. It’s amazing what Williams can get words to do. Honestly, I’ve never seen anyone come as close to expressing what’s it’s like to let one’s mind wander in free association from word to word, or what it feels like to be obsessed with finding the right word for a comeback, or what it might be like to find a soul mate.

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