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Honored Guest: Stories
Synopses & Reviews
The first collection of stories in well over a decade by a writer Ann Beattie has called "one of our most remarkable storytellers," and whom Bret Easton Ellis has named "the rightful heir to the mastery, genius, and poetry of Flannery O?Connor."
These twelve stories further Joy Williams's utterly singular achievement, described by the Washington Post as "poetic, disturbing, yet very funny... the brilliantly controlled style informed by a powerful spiritual vision," and again reveal her ability to uncover, as Michiko Kakutani wrote in the New York Times, "the somber verities lurking beneath the flash and clamor of daily life."
Her landscapes reach from Maine and Nantucket to the Southwest and into Mexico and Guatemala, while the events cover a range of human travail, from children confronting the death of a parent to parents instead burying their own young, and the various ways — comic, tragic, unnerving — we seek to accommodate diminishment and loss. And all of her characters are richly, idiosyncratically alive, in circumstances at once supremely peculiar and strangely like our own.
"'To live was like being an honored guest,' muses a teenage girl whose mother is dying. While death, loss and the likelihood of losing touch with reality are the focus of these 12 short stories by Williams, the elusive possibility of hope and mental well-being waits in the shadows, maybe even just within reach. Williams's deliciously fallible characters are often unfazed by their erratic behavior and violent eruptions. At work one day, a widowed masseuse in 'Hammer' snaps her prosperous client's wrist bone without provocation. In 'Charity,' Richard refuses to stop for a needy family despite Janice's pleas. When he gets out of the car for gas, 'Janice moved across the seat quickly, grasped the wheel and drove off,' returning to the family and perhaps losing Richard forever. Williams's grasp of the slippery line between life and death is strong: she jars the reader with news of a debilitating accident or a fatality without a breath of forewarning. Her characters speak like poets or philosophers ('Words at night were feral things'), and her prose is imaginative and dynamic (a woman obsessed with visiting a mental institution prowls the halls, pretending 'she was a virus, wandering without aim through someone's body'). Though some of her more absurd tales may perplex, discriminating readers will be greatly satisfied with this rich, darkly humorous and provocative collection. Forecast: Often compared to Flannery O'Connor, Williams is a master of the short story. This is her first collection in more than a decade, and it follows on the heels of her Pulitzer-nominated novel The Quick and the Dead; it should be widely and enthusiastically reviewed. Seven-city author tour. " Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Boldly singular, [with] a smooth strangeness reminiscent of Paul Bowles' best work...Not since Mark Richard's The Ice at the Bottom of the World has the inhalation of narrative felt so much like a narcotic — alluring precisely because it is toxic. And Williams is so good, she merely has to wave her characters' melancholia under our noses and we crave more." John Freeman, Newsday
"'Why is it,' Chekhov asked, 'that morals and truth must not be presented in their raw state?' Joy Williams delivers this 'raw state' [by] capturing the casual brutality of everyday life with a combination of grim humor, macabre incident and an ironic eye for the 'sweet, passing detail of the world.'...There's a thrilling appeal, a perverse pleasure, in reading Williams' cold take on things...Fascinating." Vernon Peterson, The Oregonian
"Penetrating and thoughtful...In these tales, Williams, an incomparable novelist and short story and essay writer, gives us characters who have good lives until they don't — people who revel in fortunate experiences until fortune gets tired of them, who believe they're embracing life fully until they realize they've missed the mark...In wonderful, stark relief, Williams gives us a glimpse into this pliability of the human heart, its marvelous ability to withstand adversity and accomodate whatever comes next." Bernadette Murphy, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Dead-on...A brilliant spawn of Raymond Carver and Flannery O'Connor, Joy Williams blends mordant wit, uncanny characters, and weirdly familiar landscapes and locales to deliver 12 indelible tales...By turns these narratives soothe, then surprise, then shock with jolts of recognition, recoil, and naked redemption." Lisa Shea, Elle
"A celebrated novelist and blazing essayist, Williams is in commandingly fine form as she channels her electrifying vision of a damaged, off-kilter world into a dozen edgy tales of sorrow and stoicism, sheer eccentricity and wild incompetence....Williams' wit is serpentine, her parsing of our ignorance of the true nature of life on Earth urgent, and her storytelling transforming as she marvels over life's tenacity and humankind's weirdness and fitful grace." Donna Seaman, Booklist
"The intersection of spiritual with actual poverty was one that Flannery O'Connor, Williams's most obvious predecessor, knew something about. Williams, however, has taken us further toward total perdition." Stephen Metcalf, The New York Times Book Review
"Her darkly comic cynicism depresses, but it's familiar. And Williams' prose offers paragraphs and lines that stun. So even as she skewers our humanity, she does it with a cruel beauty that, in its pure use of language, offers meaning." Providence Journal
"What is remarkable about the characters in this suite of stories is that we do not have to like them to feel empathy for them.... Absurd? Yes. Profound? It can be. Phenomenally interesting? Perhaps it is that most of all. Williams' stories are weird, and miraculously and intelligently weird." Chicago Tribune
About the Author
Joy Williams is the author of four novels–the most recent, The Quick and the Dead, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2001–and two earlier collections of stories, as well as Ill Nature, a book of essays that was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. Among her many honors are the Rea Award for the short story and the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Key West, Florida, and Tucson, Arizona.
Joy Williams’s Ill Nature, The Quick and the Dead, State of Grace, and Taking Care are available in Vintage paperback.
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