Concerning the Future of Souls

Concerning the Future of Souls: 99 Stories of Azrael by Joy Williams is a bit like a puzzle as it tangles the familiar with the ineffable in areas as diverse as philosophy, mathematics, music, and faith. Each of the 99 bite-sized entries contributes to a large whole, united--though tenuously--around ideas of time and mortality. Those who haven't read Ninety-Nine Stories of God need not worry; Williams returns to her singular style in the micro-fiction form, but this impressive companion piece easily stands alone.

For some, the enigmatic proposal of a book described as a puzzle is an enticement promising the perfect amount of friction in their reading experience. A unifying feature is the intermittent conversation between Azrael and the Devil. Over the course of each fascinating story, it becomes clear that despite the continuity of death, Azrael's experience with humanity is changing. Azrael wonders: "Could it be that souls are leaving a person before the body dies?" When the Devil cynically agrees to the possibility, Azrael frets over the environmental degradation he has observed: "But where can they go?... Nature's vesture is no longer available... The mountains have been stripped of their holiness, the oceans of their mysteries." More than simply a polemic on climate change, however, Concerning the Future of Souls resists any attempt to reduce it to a single thread, and though its slim size makes it possible to consume in a single sitting, that would be a mistake. This is a book to linger over, with more questions than answers, and it is sure to be lauded for its intellectual breadth and masterful control. --Sara Beth West, freelance reviewer and librarian

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