‘what’s a sentence, really, if not time spent alone – ’
Eley Williams’ debut short story collection delights in the deliciousness of words – their taste on the tongue, their vertiginous proliferation of meaning, their resonant archaic hum. Attrib. artfully weaves narrative textuality with metanarrative construction processes – the writer’s process of discovering and attributing layers of meaning to interesting and unusual words, or even mundane ones, becomes part of the narrative texture of these stories. The reader is taken on a kaleidoscopic journey through language as these uncanny stories and bizarre situations shine a colourful spotlight onto a refracted mirror of contemporary life.
The title story, Attrib., focuses on the work of a Foley artist providing incidental sound details for an audio guide to accompany a major new display of the life and work of Michelangelo. Following her through her ideas for sound effects to accompany the Creation of Eve, which include the use of a ‘day-old, tooth-stripped #34 Char Siu takeaway rib’, we are prompted to consider the word ‘rib’ as it sits within the larger body of ‘attribute’. Then we might consider the proliferations of meaning depending on whether we take ‘attribute’ to be a verb or a noun – is Eve to be ‘ascribed to’ Adam, or he to her? Or should we consider Adam to be the ‘cause’ of Eve? Each of these meanings is suggested within Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary definition of ‘To Attribute’ as the book’s epigraph. But what if we take attribute as a noun: a quality, feature or inherent part? Does this make Eve a quality or feature of Adam? Williams also casually drops a reference to ‘tributary’ – with all its constituent parts that bind it to the words ‘attribute’ and ‘rib’ – so we might question whether Eve is to be seen as a ‘tributary’ of Adam, either a minor part to Adam’s major, or the one who pays him tribute. Consistent within this narrative is the repeated noun/verb ‘BAFFLES’, suggestive of the narrator’s response to the unequal treatment of Adam and Eve by the gallery commissioners, Michelangelo, God…
The stories in this collection draw inspiration from a wide range of characters and situations that are both singularly unique and intimately recognisable. The catalogue and spotter’s guide to Rosette Manufacture, the synaesthete looking for a date or the rat trained to detect landmines would seem absurd but for Williams’ deeply human insight into her characters’ worlds into which she draws us through the weft and warp of her words. The narrator of Smote begins, ‘To kiss you should not involve such fear of imprecision’ and continues to detail the nervous uncertainty around the giving of a kiss in a public place in front of Bridget Riley’s Movement in Squares – an image which perhaps informs the bold and striking cover design of the book – cascading into a breathless six-page stream without a single full stop. The final denoument of this story contains the arresting phrases ‘and you stark me / and I am strobe-hearted’.
‘and you stark me / and I am strobe-hearted’
These are stories that are so repeatedly re-readable – for their humour, their humanity and their sheer revelry in the textual matter of the language from which they are made: the physical, pleasurable, palpable, enigmatic and unguent words and all they carry with them. Eley Williams’ Attrib. is a book that I recommend to writers, readers, and anyone with a love of words and an affectionate soft-spot for the humans that are bound up with them.
About the Publisher
Influx Press is an independent publisher committed to publishing innovative and challenging fiction, poetry and non-fiction from across the UK and beyond.
Review by Sally-Shakti Willow
Sally-Shakti Willow, research assistant for the Contemporary Small Press, is a doctoral researcher in utopian poetics and experimental writing at the University of Westminster where she also teaches on the ‘Other Worlds’ module. The Unfinished Dream, an experimental collection of words and images by Sally-Shakti Willow and Joe Evans was published by Sad Press in October 2016. @willowwriting