This week, we will be running a series of pieces from Joy Williams’s 99 Stories of God. First published in The Paris Review in 1968, Joy Williams has since appeared in our pages many times. 99 Stories of God is her first book of fiction in nearly a decade and was written, she has said, partly in an attempt to imitate the inimitable Thomas Bernhard, that “cranky genius of Austrian literature,” and his The Voice Imitator: 104 Stories.
It was May and in the garden they were drinking mango margaritas. Martha and Constance were discussing throwing an Anti–Mother’s Day party.
Martha says that in the movie A.I., there are seven words Monica uses to imprint the boy David. They are: Cirrus. Socrates. Particle. Decibel. Hurricane. Dolphin. Tulip. She is now his mother, and he will love her unconditionally and forever.
But he was a cyborg, she adds.
Constance becomes anxious when conversation deteriorates to talk of movies. She brings out her mother’s replacement knees, which she requested upon her mother’s cremation, though her husband, Jim, maintains that he was the one who requested them.
Laughing, Martha says that this is the most macabre thing she has ever witnessed in her life.
The heavy knees are passed around.
Later, Martha tells the story of the tenant in her Palm Beach condominium (willed to Martha by her mother) who committed suicide there by shotgun. It cost two thousand dollars to get the blood out of the carpets.
The other tenants of the condominium are annoyed at Martha because she didn’t come up right away from Key West to deal with the situation.
Why didn’t you? I ask.
Because I didn’t want to, she says, smiling in that way she smiles.
Dr. Lucas Mix and his wife were driving in their car outside Laramie, Wyoming. The next thing they knew was that they were in the wilds of Mexico, thousands of miles away, although only twenty-four hours had passed. They had no idea how they had come to be there.
Of course, the usual questions arose: Who are we? What have we become? Wherein and why have we been cast? Whereto are we hastening? From what have we been freed?
The only clue was that their car was scorched on the outside.
Buick Le Sabre
Excerpted from 99 Stories of God. Used by permission of Byliner.