Prairie Journal review of Not Anyone’s Anything by Ian Williams

(from Prairie Journal issue 56, review by Annie Vigna)

Review of Not Anyone’s Anything by Ian Williams (Freehand Books, 2011) 218 pp. ISBN 978-1-55111-995-3 $21.95

Read this book only if you hunger for a delirious romp through flawless diction, exquisite imagery, unforgettable characters and plots. And mind-blowing structure so well conceived and produced that one cannot believe how well it works.

Williams is not only a writer, he is conductor of symphonies. What other explanation is there for crafting two plots within a story that, separated with tangible horizontal black lines in “Break-in”, for example, these stories conclude on the same note with the same character?

“Break-in” is the third story in the first section.  The first story is called “Not Anyone’s Anything” but could have been titled “Break-up”; and the second is titled “Breakthrough”.  Williams uses flash cards and credible ethnic slang in the first story to illustrate the despair of his characters’ longing to fit into and succeed in a new country.  That is the premise; however, the tone is hip, energetic, even whimsical.

In “Breakthrough” there is no attempt to sugarcoat the suffering and angst felt by Kaitlyn and Jeremy and the news that Dr. Zhang delivers.  Three strikes and you’re out! Pregnancy?  Cancer?  HIV?  The timing, the diction, in this prose is perfect!

Contracted. . . . Sealed airtight in his car, in traffic, inundated with soft rock, Jeremy tries to rip off the steering wheel. Give me the cancer. I want the cancer.

 The second section of prose is titled “Trios”, further divided into sections, and showcases some of the best passages in the collection.  Ignoring the context in each case, here is a sampling:

(1)   And because no one bothers to check, no one even suspects, Heath gets on the bus and goes off.

(2)   Fighting someone you love is the best comfort in a country where everyone smiles.

(3)   She realizes that she’s crossed over from negating a presence to explaining an absence.

The third and last section contains three separate stories, the first of which is titled “Prelude” imbedded with musical notations. Raq, the protagonist, is so eager to play Rachmaninoff, and to perfect Chopin, she allows her young brother to perform a surgical procedure gleaned from the Internet to increase her hand span.

Broken hearts are the subjects in “Cardiology”—a fourth-grader’s Science Fair project “measuring the effects of chocolate on the heart rate and blood pressure of a twenty-six-year-old woman”; that woman’s cutout hearts for the project; and the boyfriend’s father who is languishing in the coronary care unit of a hospital.

Perhaps the darkest story concludes the collection.  “Fall” is the consummate title for a story whose characters are felled–even as the birch trees on their property are–even as the birds from the trees are.

Congratulations and profound thanks to Ian Williams for this precisely crafted collection; and high praise to editor Robyn Reed, to Natalie Olsen for design, and to Sarah Ivany of Freehand Books for production of this unconventional collection.

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