Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine (CB Editions [UK], 2016 / McSweeney’s Books [US], 2016) is the newest collection of short fiction from Diane Williams, the founder and editor of the literary annual NOON. Described by Lydia Davis as ‘one of the very few contemporary prose writers who seem to be doing something independent, energetic, heartfelt’, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine is a collection of challenging, but not impenetrable, flash fictions that examines their subjects with absolute precision.
‘The Skol’, possibly the shortest story in the collection, is about Mrs Clavey who is walking out to sea. It is the perfect example of a flash in which every single word is required, and each word contributes to the greater story being told, for example: ‘She didn’t intend to drink, but she did drink—more.’ This creates the impression that Williams’ language is stripped back, however, the almost minimalist style means that Williams creates imagery that is both concise and evocative without being superfluous. The fact Mrs Clavey didn’t intend to drink more, but continues to do so, reveals much to the reader about the nature of her situation without Williams needing to say more. When Mrs Clavey swallows a tiny amount of water, we’re told ‘It tasted like a cold, salted variety of her favorite payang cougou tea’, Williams demonstrates how the specific choice of words can provide a vivid image, as well as reveal more about the type of woman Mrs Clavey is.
Some of these stories read like collections of thoughts. ‘Gulls’ begins with a woman watching seagulls flying in the sky, which brings me back to my previous point about the precision and control of Williams’ description:
“The gulls in the wind looked to her like fruit flies or gnats.
Two gulls flying suffered an in-air collision. One fell. The other briefly stood there – appearing to do next to nothing.
The woman didn’t think she was supposed to see that.”
This is one of my favourite openings in the collection because it is simple, yet unusual; the idea that the woman didn’t think she was supposed to witness these two gulls flying into each other pulls into view the little things we fail to notice about the world around us. The story proceeds with the woman looking down at the adults in the street below her from the ninth floor, and this encourages the reader to wonder where the woman is; is she watching the gulls above and the people below, or is she higher than them both? Later in the flash, we find the woman in bed “with nothing much accomplished vis-à-vis the mysteries of daily life”. What I simultaneously enjoy and struggle about stories like this in the collection is the ambiguities woven into the narrative. Where the imagery is precise, there are elements of Williams prose that do not give us all of the answers, for example, where the woman has accomplished “nothing much” about the mysteries of life, this implies that she was worked out something, leaving the reader to wonder what.
Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine is a challenging collection. These flashes are powerful and beautifully put together, but they are not for everyone.