I can see the world changing when I read through Tennessee Williams’s complete collection of short stories. Known for his plays, he was a spectacular short story writer as well, and many of the pieces I read sizzled and burned, beautiful lines etched in my memories.
Like many writers, Williams was preoccupied with sex and sexuality. Unlike many writers, he wrote stories from the ’40s to the ’70s. Arranged in chronological order, his stories are not only a map of the human condition–they are a reflection of a changing America. What Williams can say, and when he can say it, changed over time. Words unwritable in 1941 were easy to scribe in 1974. Subject matter like homosexuality had to be danced around once, and could be openly stated in later years.
Yet, something is lost. The elaborate metaphor; the clever or piercing turn of phrase, is lost in the later stories. They feel more rushed, more confused and disjointed, even as sex becomes easier to write about. It is in the early works, under the restrictions and repression, that Williams truly shines. For better or worse.