In Vicky Swanky Is a Beauty, Diane Williams lays bare the urgency and weariness that shape our lives in stories honed sharper than ever. With sentences auguring revelation and explosion, Williams’s unsettling stories—a cryptic meeting between neighbors, a woman’s sexual worries, a graveside discussion, a chimney on fire—are narrated with razor-sharp tongues and naked, uproarious irreverence.
These fifty stories hum with tension, each one so taut that it threatens to snap and send the whole thing sprawling—the mess and desire, the absurdity and hilarity, the bruises and bleeding, the blushes and disappointments and secrets. An audacious, unruly tour de force, Vicky Swanky Is a Beauty cements Diane Williams’ position as one of the best practitioners of the short form in literature today.
Today we offer a sneak peek at four stories from the book. To purchase it, please visit our store.
BETWEEN MIDNIGHT AND 6 AM
Women were not a major ingredient in my thinking at that time.
She was blonde, very small, and if I remember right she had big breasts. Uh, Arthur was sleeping on a couch in the living room so I can imagine there was traipsing going on. Mother had her bedroom next to the kitchen. The girl had to go through the apartment in order to get to the bathroom.
I spent the night on the stairs, not dozing off.
She was a bankrupt.
As for me, I could have put more into this. Mother wants her sons to get ahead.
It must have been very soon after that that Mother said, “Ohhhh, Ka-a-a-a-a-y!”
We loved Kay better than we loved our mother. But by glancing back, as I approach middle age, the scale of things quite slowly, calmly, becomes a peep-show.
And everybody had to share. And there was a sliding glass door into the breakfast nook—so there was a curtain over it.
I met with some success. I took a job as a chemical mix-man—to store, order, and prepare wet and dry chemicals.
I’m only warming up. Most of my work is routine labor. There’s an element of physical danger. It is not easy to have this job. I’m not the outdoors type.
Today I got the temperature level too high in the chemical levels in the glass plate processing room and had to get buckets of ice.
Sometimes I’m over a barrel—my wife and I agree.
To get anywhere in my life at this time!—rather, to get anywhere near my wife at this time!—that can take days. I have to go through the kitchen, the laundry—I have to go through hell! Not entirely true.
I ate by myself.
I went to our bedroom with a glass of water for her in the hopes of hearing her cheery cry.
She’s so warm—she’s kind and she’ll likely say, “Hi!”
Her hands were folded behind her head. She whispered, modestly.
This will pep me up.
From all outward appearances, there was substantial risk for lack of concentration, overenthusiastic response, unrealistic desires, emotional craving, weak discipline, pettiness, a tendency to show off, and temporary stops to take a breath.
“You think you are a do-gooder,” Mother said, “don’t you? You’re a do-gooder.”
After a minute, no more, a newcomer looked toward me, a toddler with her mother, I’d bet.
“These type of people,” Mother said.
“See that large bird?” I said.
“I don’t know,” Mother said.
The toddler acted as if she knew me.
It’s so interesting when a little person is so clearly distinguished. I can tell—by the superciliary arches above her eyes, the ultra-tiny hands. I regard this visitant as unreal.
THE NEWLY MADE SUPPER
The guest’s only wish is to see anyone who looks like Betsy, to put his hands around this Betsy’s waist, on her breasts. He’s just lost a Betsy. He followed Betsy.
In front of Betsy, who supports on her knees her dinner dish, you can see the guest approach.
“You got your supper?” he says, “Betsy?”
And Betsy says, “Who’s that in the purple shirt?”
“That’s not purple. You say purple?” says the guest.
“What color would you say that is?” says Betsy.
“I have to look that up. Magenta!” says Betsy.
“That’s magenta,” says the guest.
“That’s lavender,” says another woman who’s a better Betsy.
A MAN, AN ANIMAL
At the cinema I watched closely the camels, the horses, the young actor taking his stance for the sexual act.
He started up with a pretty girl we had a general view of.
I felt the girl’s pallor stick into me.
Another girl, in pink swirls alternating with yellow swirls, intruded.
The girls were like the women who will one day have to have round-the-clock duty at weddings, at birthdays, at days for the feasts.
Unaccountably, I hesitated on the last step of the cinema’s escalator when we were on our way out, and several persons bumped into me.
An ugly day today—I didn’t mention that, with fifty mile per hour winds.
But here is one of the more fortunate facts: We were Mr. and Mrs. Gray heading home.
It has been said—the doors of a house should always swing into a room. They should open easily to give the impression to those entering that everything experienced inside will be just as easy.
A servant girl was whipping something up when we arrived, and she carried around the bowl with her head bowed.
We’ve been told not to grab at breasts.
Before leaving for Indiana in the morning—where I had to clean up arrangements for a convention—I stood near my wife to hear her speak. So, who is she and what can I expect further from her?
What she did, what she said in the next days, weeks and years, addresses the questions Americans are insistently, even obsessively asking—but what sorts of pains in the neck have I got?
Please forgive our confusion and our failures. We make our petitions—say our prayers. It’s like our falling against a wall, in a sense.
On a recent day, my wife gave me a new scarf to wear as a present. It’s chrome green. Her mother Della, on that same day, had helped her to adjust to her hatred of me.
I’d have to say, I’ve given my wife a few very pleasant shocks, too.
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