Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Williams is often associated with a style of fiction writing that is loosely called minimalism. Minimalist writers are frequently characterized as those who strip their stories of all extraneous description and narration, supporting their stories more on dialogue than on exposition. Their stories often have an edge of despair, of bleakness to them, as they chronicle lives caught in the contemporary anguishes of failed love and failed family.

Williams is fond of describing the modern American scene, with all of its cultural—and pop cultural—detritus. In “Health,” she employs the American cult-fondness for physical health and beauty—the artificially tanned body as a symbol (often a false one) of bodily well-being and success. The health spa thus becomes a potentially comic paradox of America’s search for the artificially produced (or induced) healthy American.

Williams also enjoys catching the off-beat and off-center elements of our daily lives. The impulse toward movement and mobility, here expressed in automobiles and roller skates, is a motif that Williams frequently uses and one that she sees as part of the American character. What we see and hear on the road in “Health”—a television with a single bullet hole in the center of its screen, a car radio playing “Tainted Love”—provides a discordant counterpoint to Pammy’s experience.

Finally, Williams tells her story in the present tense, as do so many contemporary fiction writers. This technique allows her to emphasize the immediacy of Pammy’s experience, and to heighten our awareness of what might be called “the American present.” We are taken directly into Pammy’s maturing consciousness as it attempts to assimilate the varieties of experience—the varieties of health and un-health—that make up her American scene.