Short Story Challenge: The Woman in the Woods

Thursday, January 31, 2008

My first official short story challenge selection is The Woman in the Woods by Ann Joslin Williams. I came to Williams by way of "Cascom Mountain Road," a story published in Story Quarterly, issue 42. There are many, many good stories in that issue but I was so entranced by that particular story, that I immediately sought out more.

Williams' collection did not disappoint. Okay, it disappointed a little when I discovered that the story I'd fallen in love with wasn't in this collection. But then I started reading and immediately became enamored with the new characters and all was well again. The stories in the collection are all set in the mountains of New Hampshire and follow a brother and sister through their lives. The collection is centered on David and Kate and in the first story we learn that they lost their father when they were children and that Kate lost a young son, and with it, her marriage. All together, the collection paints a collage of these lives, through their adolescence and the discovery of new love, through the eventual loss of their own loves, marriages, and children. Taken individually, each story is a beautiful moment in time.

"Before this day there were many other days, like the day Jeff Driver found the beagle lying dead on the trail, and how he wrapped the dog in a blue blanket, carried it to them like a baby. Or when Peter Lorde drove his big truck through the little poplar trees to make a road, and how they popped as they broke and flattened under the tires. Or when her mother and father held each other and circled the living room to the beat of a scratchy blues record, and how he lifted her and stood her on the table and held her hand so they danced like that, with him below and reaching up to her."
Williams' writing is rich with imagery, creating a world I found myself never wanting to leave. These are not just the stories of lives, but the stories of extraordinary lives. Whether it's a woman that's part deer or a cult hitching a ride on the back of a comet, there's an element of the extraordinary in every story. But it's not flashy. It's handled with such subtlety that you may lose it among the stunning prose.

I loved this collection as much as the original story that turned me on to Williams. I highly recommend it and I hope there will be more stories from Cascom Mountain one day.