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Joy Williams (1) (1944–)

Author of The Quick and the Dead

For other authors named Joy Williams, see the disambiguation page.

66+ Works 2,569 Members 78 Reviews 10 Favorited

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 show more 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 show less
Image credit: via Penguin Random House

Works by Joy Williams

The Quick and the Dead (2000) 396 copies
Ninety-Nine Stories of God (2013) 287 copies
Honored Guest: Stories (2004) 242 copies
The Changeling (1978) 211 copies
Harrow (2021) 207 copies
Breaking and Entering (1988) 168 copies
Taking Care (1982) 162 copies
State of Grace (1973) 157 copies
Ill Nature (2001) 116 copies
Escapes (1990) 101 copies

Associated Works

The Best American Short Stories 2005 (2005) — Contributor — 697 copies
The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007 (2007) — Contributor — 615 copies
The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories (1994) — Contributor — 479 copies
The Granta Book of the American Short Story (1992) — Contributor — 369 copies
The Best American Short Stories 1995 (1995) — Contributor — 302 copies
xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths (2013) — Contributor — 276 copies
Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story (2012) — Contributor; Introduction — 221 copies
The Best American Short Stories 1990 (1990) — Contributor — 218 copies
The New Granta Book of the American Short Story (2007) — Contributor — 212 copies
Why I Write: Thoughts on the Craft of Fiction (1998) — Contributor — 187 copies
The Best American Short Stories of the 80s (1990) — Contributor — 163 copies
The Best American Essays 1997 (1997) — Contributor — 155 copies
Granta 28: Birthday: The Anniversary Issue (1989) — Contributor — 150 copies
Granta 67: Women and Children First (1999) — Contributor — 143 copies
The Best American Essays 1991 (1991) — Contributor — 143 copies
Granta 55: Children (1996) — Contributor — 130 copies
The Best American Short Stories 1987 (1987) — Contributor — 129 copies
The Best American Essays 1990 (1990) — Contributor — 117 copies
The Best American Short Stories 1986 (1986) — Contributor — 97 copies
American Short Stories (1976) — Contributor, some editions — 95 copies
Granta 19: More Dirt (1986) — Contributor — 76 copies
The Best American Short Stories 1985 (1985) — Contributor — 61 copies
Sister to Sister (1995) — Contributor — 32 copies
The Best American Short Stories 1978 (1978) — Contributor — 25 copies
The Best Small Fictions 2017 (2017) — Contributor — 14 copies
Conjunctions: 30, Paper Airplane (1998) — Contributor — 11 copies

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Reviews

Picked up this book after seeing the author’s name mentioned in Tao Lin’s Leaving Society and this particular volume on Lin’s end of the year of books he read in 2023.
I’d never heard of Joyce Williams before, but this collection of essays, ostensibly about ecology, nature, etc appealed to me. I probably agree with most of Williams’ views expressed within about how human beings continue to be a scourge on the natural environment, and how we have, despite all our past and ongoing “progress” can’t seem to temper our desires to the consume and conquer everything we come across. From the get-go, however, Williams settles into a polemical mood, and barely lets up for the length of the book. At several points I was overcome by the sensation that I was reading a transcription of a George Carlin style rant - so much so was the rage and passion Williams feels about these topics practically spluttering off the page. A few of the more vitriolic essays often resort to listing human beings various ecological sins in an attempt to paint a sort of Boschian portrait of the hellscape the earth has become at our doing. I’ve never loved reading things that I simply agree with and that don’t offer me any novel nuance or intellectual challenge on a topic, and that was mostly the problem here. Maybe times have changed and the points Williams is making here just don’t seem so radical anymore, what with mass extinction and global warming all but certain at this point.

There were two essays in this collection that are excellent. The first is when Williams tells the saga of the property she owned in the Florida Keys for 30 years. The valiant effort she made to create natural oasis amongst soulless development is really cool and her description of her home set me dreaming about the way I’d like to have my house in the future (if I ever have one). The second essay that really bowled me over was the one about her dog Hawk. I had to sit my book down for several long minutes after and stare into space to mulled over a bit the bleak and poignant beauty of this one, the contradictions of being a pet owner, the crushing responsibility of taking care of another living thing, and the uncanny descriptions of the process for disposal of pet remains.

will eventually get around to reading something else by Williams.
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hdeanfreemanjr | 3 other reviews | Jan 29, 2024 |
Short baffling vignettes about finding the human in the divine. You have to love a tale that begins with "God was standing in line at the pharmacy waiting to receive his shingles vaccination..."
 
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jemisonreads | 18 other reviews | Jan 22, 2024 |
I didn't "get" it, but it was intriguing enough that I would maybe reread in the future.
 
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audient_void | 8 other reviews | Jan 6, 2024 |
This is unlike anything I have ever read. Not fully surrealist or even magic realism, but an almost Lynchian Americana folklore tragedy with the disintegration of the self. Utterly beautiful, discombobulating, nauseatingly unsettling with little to really say why. There is a magic infused in writing that absorbs and warps the reader as they read it.

While The Changeling is not plot heavy, the story follows Pearl, a new mother, leaving her husband and the family island they have been living on. He comes to bring her back and tragedy strikes in the way home, leaving Pearl back on the island, lost, adrift, and a focus for the various children of her in laws. She loses herself in alcoholism and things get very weird, leaving us unsure as to what has actually happened in the closing of the novel.

What truly sets this story apart for me is the hypnotic, lyrical incisive nonsense of the prose. It truly is spellbinding in its poetry and denaturing of grammar as Pearl's self begins to come apart. The opening third of this book is written so majestically that I actually found it hard to read as the prose was so evocative and effecting that I was constantly finding myself inspired, making notes and working on my own writing, as Williams' words just unlocked my brain.

I would remiss to not acknowledge that there was a section on the middle in which Pearl's alcoholism and abdication of life and reality are being established that I actually found tough going because the prose suffered and the section felt particularly drawn out. This may well be purposeful, but going from being enraptured to uncomfortable less engaged in the writing was a little off putting. But as things truly start to spiral the text gets really weird and wonderful again.

There are a couple of full, unpunctuated streams of consciousness that appear to be the children's odd sayings, vying for Pearl's attention, and the thought to speech children (and myself) are so prone to, that are incredibly effective. I truly can't quite pin down why exactly, but one of them all but reduced me to tears, it was so powerful. Towards the end there is also the description of an old woman and likening her to a bird, and again I can't put my finger on exactly why, but it is one of the most unsettling and creepy things I've ever read, especially for something not writing anything extreme or explicitly discomforting. Williams just has an absolute mastery of tone and vibe from the fairy tale, both modern sanitised and traditional, to hallucinatory and disassociative, and the uncanny and disturbing.

You'll see clearly from other reviews that it's almost impossible to say what is or isn't real in this story. Who or what is/ are the Changeling/s, and exactly what they represent. Are all the characters separate entities or aspects of certain other characters. Pearl is an unreliable narrator and her world is unreliable, which is extremely appropriate with this being written in the late 70s that was still very much dealing with the fallout and reckoning with what women were and should be. Following the increased freedoms that came during the second world war and the subsequent brutal banishment to home and baby makers that took an unbelievable toll on many's psyche, as did the chauvinist gender politics that dominated the following decades.

Pearl is a person purposely shown without agency. We see her swept off her feet and whisked away, unable to get away when she wants, and ultimately trapped on the island, surrounded by children, and lost in a depressive, alcoholic haze. Through Pearl we really see what tragedy on top of the utterly controlling patriarchy does to a motherfucker. This is her own private Twin Peaks.

There's infinitely more to say about this book that I still can barely wrap my head around. The animal motifs and echoes of family history that burrow and vibrate through the narrative. How much of anything, especially the ending, is real? Does that even matter? What are all the goodness knows how many other elements and allusions I'm missing? I'm truly fascinated and besotted with this bizarre book.

Truly one of the most singular and mentally, emotionally stimulating books I've ever had the pleasure of reading. Please and thank you!


***

Initial Thoughts:

OK. I really needed a book that absolutely knocked my socks off as I've been in a slump of disappointments and this delivered! It has just taken me a relative age to read as I struggle with text somewhat, but thus is one of the weirdest, most beautiful and hauntingly bleak books I've ever read. Just breathtaking!

More thoughts when I've had time to process and it's not 0515.
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RatGrrrl | 9 other reviews | Dec 20, 2023 |

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