A Pulitzer Prize Finalist from one of our most heralded writers—the “poetic, disturbing, yet very funny” (The Washington Post Book World) 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 Dead limns 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.
Joy Williams belongs, James Salter has written, "in the company of Céline, Flannery O'Connor, and Margaret Atwood."
"This was no place to be tonight for any of them, but this was the place they were." Set in the Texas desert, the first new fiction in 10 years from the much-praised Williams (States of Grace) examines the thoughts and hopes of three motherless 16-year-old girls, exploring their connections to one another, to a large cast of difficult adults and to the ghosts that populate their lives. Williams's first chapters introduce her three protagonists--beautiful, grief-stricken Corvus; zealous Alice, always looking for "something that would give her a little edge or obscure the edge she already had, she didn't know which"; and Annabel, whose preoccupations with skincare and sweaters seems practical by comparison. Around this trio, other characters form a web of dependence, trust and mistrust--a web repeatedly broken by sudden violence. Annabel's father, Carter, lusts after his young Buddhist gardener, but carries on drunken, hostile conversations with the vindictive ghost of his dead wife. There's also stroke victim Ray Webb, a poetic young drifter; Sherwin, a piano player with a death wish; wealthy and bored big-game hunter Stumpp and the object of his affections, precocious and articulate eight-year-old Emily. All of Williams's people have lost something important, and all of them are spending time and energy with people they would not have chosen. Williams's psychology is subtle, her attention to teen diction superb. Like the Midwestern novelist Wright Morris, Williams gives her detailed, poetic novel an episodic, meandering structure, and the book ends without much resolution. But these are deliberate choices, made by an artist attentive to real people's psyches--and to how even our smallest decisions matter to others in ways we may never know.
The quick and the dead
I found this book hard to get through. I looked forward to having it all tie together the unique characters and incidents in their stories, but it never did. The characters were not even all that sympathetic to make me want to care about them. It was a long waste of time that could have been better spent watching glue dry. I don't understand how this could get so close to the Pulitzer Prize.