Book: Gardens of Earthly Delight
Author: George Williams
Type of Book: Fiction, bizarro (sort of), short story collection
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: It’s hard to put into words…
Availability: Published by Raw Dog Screaming Press in 2011, you can get a copy here:
Comments: The title of this book references the Hieronymus Bosch painting, The Garden of Earthly Delight and it is in reference to Bosch that I can best explain how it is that Williams is odd. Williams clearly structured his stories in various manners so as to hark back to that famous triptych – man in paradise, man in sin, man in Hell. In fact, the cover of this book is a fragment of the center panel of The Garden of Earthly Delight – my favorite part of the painting – and is why I decided I would read this book when RDSP contacted me regarding some of their newer titles last year. The cover features, in the midst of extraordinary and intense revelry, a naked couple, reminiscent of Adam and Eve before the Fall. They are sitting in a glass bubble, separated from the chaotic carnival around them, but the bubble is cracking. Before long they will be in the world, no longer in a safe place of innocence.
With a cover like this, I had certain expectations of the stories within the book and Williams delivers. He writes stories that indeed mimic the progression from paradise into hell. But there was an element to his writing that recreated the cracked glass bubble in a manner I could not have expected. Williams is a minimalist writer, his words echoing the simple, uncomplicated affection the two naked souls in the glass bubble expressed in the midst of sexual revelry.
Additionally, Williams has a muffled quality to his writing that ordinarily would have irritated the hell out of me, but somehow worked well with his subject matter and overall style. There is a remove in his writing, a distance between not only the reader and the story, but the writer and the story as well. Williams writes without using any sort of conversational punctuation, a style I loathe, and Williams is a writer whose minimalist approach definitely keeps the reader focused on the surface of the story. I never once felt a deep kinship with any of the people in this book because I was observing, not absorbing. Minimalism as a rule does not interest me much, but Williams’ style is so in keeping with Bosch’s theme conveyed via the couple in the cracked bubble that I want to read more of his work and see if this was a happy accident or quite deliberate. I hate to invoke his name because he comes up too often as a reference every time anyone reads minimalism, but there is a definite Raymond Carver feel to these stories
Actually, if I think about it, this collection is a Raymond Carver/Flannery O’Connor hybrid. You can best see that confluence in the story I liked best in the collection, “Dickson.” In “Dickson,” an unnamed couple have an undetonated nuclear missile that had washed ashore for them to find, despite the Air Force’s frenzied attempts to locate it. They show it in small towns in Tennessee, charging a fee to look at it. They meet up with a Pentecostal preacher who persuades them to let him use the bomb to show in his sermons in exchange for 20% of the tithes the preacher takes in. Whether or not the bomb is real will spoil the story but even avoiding spoilers still leaves plenty to discuss.