Williams puts her stamp on the interlocking-stories genre with a collection of richly language-driven vignettes—most spoken by an unnamed I to or about an unnamed you—in which moments are stopped and spun beyond time and space as the narrator relives her last glimpse of a departing you or overthinks kissing you in public. Leaving out as much as she tells, Williams fills the interstices of traditional narrative with a close focus on words themselves, investigating etymologies, synonyms, and sounds; in a typically sensual description, she loves etcetera for “its spokey consonants and rhythms, its bitedowns.” In another piece, the I chooses an on-line dating candidate because her email “smells like a sea breeze,” while in one of the few non-you-and-I narratives, two boys look closely into each other’s eyes, naming the shifting colors—“Truffle Leather 3,” “Enchanted Eden 2”-- as precisely and inventively as they can—all while one stuffs his friend’s mouth with marshmallows. If it’s only partially true that “this is all absurd,” such playfulness is certainly a large part of “the power of” Williams’s charming, quirky, empathetic and utterly original fiction debut.
At sixteen an internationally recognized wildlife activist, McAnulty is the Northern Irish counterpart of Sweden’s Greta Thunberg. He's also like her in being on the spectrum, and his Diary is an often wrenching account of the anguish he suffers trying to navigate the noise of confusing social demands andhis schoolmates' bullying. But the sensitivity that makes ordinary life painful makes nature a place of solace and wonder. McAnulty experiences the wild thoroughly and deeply—studying a centuries’ old great oak, he feels “our rhythms intertwine”—and evokes its sounds, sights, and smells in language as lyrical as it is scientifically precise; McAnulty is an expert in both the habits of butterflies, otters, and birds ranging from ravens to corncrakes and hen harriers (he was smitten with raptors at age six), and the folklore associated with them. But is this enough to raise awareness of our essential bonds to nature and stop the relentless “growing for growth” that has hurt so many of the creatures McAnulty loves? Is “noticing an act of rebellion, a resistance?” McAnulty’s passion and eloquence—his ability to show us, and make us care about, how “a wall is an entire world to an insect,” for instance—makes the answer a resounding “yes.”
The eponymous phone booth here is an actual disconnected black rotary in Otsuchi, Japan, where mourners speak to their lost loved ones. In her gem of a novel, Messina tells the stories of two strangers who visit this kaze no denwa or “wind phone”; hoping “to get our shadows back,” Yui—whose daughter and mother perished in the 2011 tsunami, and Takeshi, whose wife died of cancer—instead find each other. That Messina has created a thoroughly charming work from the pair’s long, painful path to healing –which includes both touches of whimsy and philosophical reflections on connections, parenthood, luck, and much else—testifies to the power of both her spare, empathetic prose and the miracle of the kaze no denwa itself, where even “death…felt like a beautiful thing,” and where grief and joy do indeed go hand in hand.