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The Quick and the Dead (2000)

by Joy Williams

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3121065,093 (3.7)4
From one of our most heralded writers--Joy Williams belongs, James Salter has written, "in the company of Céline, Flannery O'Connor, and Margaret Atwood"--her first novel in more than a decade: the life-and-death adventures of three misfit teenagers in the American desert. Alice, Corvus, and Annabel, each a motherless child, are an unlikely circle of friends. One filled with convictions, another with loss, the third with a worldly pragmatism, they traverse an air-conditioned landscape eccentric with signs and portents--from the preservation of the living dead in a nursing home to the presentation of the dead as living in a wildlife museum--accompanied by restless, confounded adults. A father lusts after his handsome gardener even as he's haunted (literally) by his dead wife; a heartbroken dog runs afoul of an angry neighbor; a young stroke victim drifts westward, his luck running from worse to awful; a sickly musician for whom Alice develops an attraction is drawn instead toward darker imaginings and solutions; and an aging big-game hunter finds spiritual renewal through his infatuation with an eight-year-old--the formidable Emily Bliss Pickless. With nature thoroughly routed and the ambiguities of existence on full display, life and death continue in directions both invisible and apparent. Gloriously funny and wonderfully serious,The Quick and the Deadlimns the vagaries of love, the thirst for meaning, and the peculiar paths by which all creatures are led to their destiny. A panorama of contemporary life and an endlessly surprising tour de force: penetrating and magical, ominous and comic, this is the most astonishing book yet in Joy Williams's illustrious career.… (more)
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» See also 4 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
i love this messy novel where all the characters r crudely constructed from the random horrors of human melancholy, grief, boredom, & (targetless) revenge. everyone's a little unbelievable--caricatures & voids--which somehow fell more on the side of delight than eyerolly anguish for me. the plot never shows up but who can blame it & i didnt much mind cos the writing is so good ur willing to live in the exposition. ( )
  freakorlando | May 14, 2020 |
While this is a disturbing book, it is very absorbing.
The only reason it doesn't get 5 stars is because it jumps, chapter to chapter, between several characters. Each of them is interesting in their own way and have a strange quirk that plays into their unusual actions and reactions. The dialogue is disarming while at the same time charming. It is Williams at her best, and also a book worth a second read.
The stories are interconnected but the narrative is most powerful when the focus is on one character, their inner conflicts and skewed perspective. As long as the style doesn't grate on you, this book will impress the pants off you.
I happen to find the author's style addictive. ( )
  LSPopovich | Apr 8, 2020 |
Joy Williams is probably an acquired taste -- acquired by those who savor gallows humor and tenuous connections between life and death. Generally speaking her characters are not the kind of souls one would want to spend much time with, but they do tease the mind for a couple of afternoon or evening reads. The Quick and the Dead takes place during one summer in an unidentified Southwestern desert town. The main characters are three motherless sixteen year-old girls.

Alice, the central character, has been raised by her Granny and Poppa as her mother decamped shortly after she was born. Her school friend, Corvus, has recently lost both her parents in a freak flash flood. Annabel, a newcomer to the town, has arrived from New England with her father Carter, who is literally haunted during the night by his late wife, Ginger. Alice wants to live a singular life, and although she sees earth-threatening calamities around every corner, she is the most daring. Corvus is buried in grieving and unsure how to proceed. While trying to remember and memorialize her mother, Annabel hates the desert and longs for the "normal" life she has been dragged from.

Peripheral characters include the founder the a Wildlife Museum populated by the stuffed animals he has hunted all over the world, a piano player who wears a tuxedo all the time, an eight-year old girl who despises the man her mother is seeing, a seductive gardener who enchants Annabel's father, and a drifter -- a young stroke victim -- who believes a monkey lives in his brain.

The book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and is brilliantly written, as are all Williams' novels (I haven't read her short story collections). Williams's landscapes contribute to or counterpoint the bizarre and bleak vision she has of the modern society. ( )
  janeajones | Feb 10, 2019 |
Well, everyone in this book is crazy...some of them are alive, some dead, some barely conscious...but all freaking crazy.

You know how when you read Catch 22, and you think, everyone's crazy to show the craziness of war? Well, it's kinda that way here...but there is no war. Some sort of attack on society, perhaps?

In any event, there is some very funny stuff, very horrific stuff, very confusing stuff--but a fun overall book. :) ( )
  csweder | Jul 8, 2014 |
Well, everyone in this book is crazy...some of them are alive, some dead, some barely conscious...but all freaking crazy.

You know how when you read Catch 22, and you think, everyone's crazy to show the craziness of war? Well, it's kinda that way here...but there is no war. Some sort of attack on society, perhaps?

In any event, there is some very funny stuff, very horrific stuff, very confusing stuff--but a fun overall book. :) ( )
  csweder | Jul 8, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
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And whatever is not God is nothing,
and ought to be accounted as nothing.

-Thomas A Kempis, 'The imitation of Christ'
Toward a place where
I could not find safety I went

-Yaqui deer song
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From one of our most heralded writers--Joy Williams belongs, James Salter has written, "in the company of Céline, Flannery O'Connor, and Margaret Atwood"--her first novel in more than a decade: the life-and-death adventures of three misfit teenagers in the American desert. Alice, Corvus, and Annabel, each a motherless child, are an unlikely circle of friends. One filled with convictions, another with loss, the third with a worldly pragmatism, they traverse an air-conditioned landscape eccentric with signs and portents--from the preservation of the living dead in a nursing home to the presentation of the dead as living in a wildlife museum--accompanied by restless, confounded adults. A father lusts after his handsome gardener even as he's haunted (literally) by his dead wife; a heartbroken dog runs afoul of an angry neighbor; a young stroke victim drifts westward, his luck running from worse to awful; a sickly musician for whom Alice develops an attraction is drawn instead toward darker imaginings and solutions; and an aging big-game hunter finds spiritual renewal through his infatuation with an eight-year-old--the formidable Emily Bliss Pickless. With nature thoroughly routed and the ambiguities of existence on full display, life and death continue in directions both invisible and apparent. Gloriously funny and wonderfully serious,The Quick and the Deadlimns the vagaries of love, the thirst for meaning, and the peculiar paths by which all creatures are led to their destiny. A panorama of contemporary life and an endlessly surprising tour de force: penetrating and magical, ominous and comic, this is the most astonishing book yet in Joy Williams's illustrious career.

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