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Honored Guest: Stories
224 pp., $23.00
It takes a certain temperament to herald reconciliation on God's holy mountain. It takes hope. One doesn't think of Joy Williams as a writer much given to hope. Those who know her fiction are more likely to remark its fatalism and its outré collection of jaded vagabonds and shallow sophisticates; of uncanny teenagers and preternaturally knowing children; of women who drink too much and think too critically; of the lonely, the broken, the undone.
Williams' cabinet of misfits is often compared to Flannery O'Connor's, and justly so. The comparison with O'Connor goes further, too, as both authors entertain fertile religious themes. But where O'Connor's work is avowedly, if obliquely, redemptive, Williams' is dubiously so. And Williams' sacramentalism, if it can be called that, encompasses nature first and only fitfully leaks back to humanity. Indeed, the most remarkable presence in the work of Joy Williams is neither personal nor transcendental. What sets Williams apart is the animals.
Williams is the author of four novels, the most recent of which, The Quick and the Dead, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2002. She has penned two highly regarded collections of short stories, a volume of essays, and a book on the Florida Keys, part history and part travel-guide. She lives mainly in Key West. If she can be called a Christian writer—and I think she can—she is the kind who wrestles endlessly with faith and who broods deeply over death and the human condition. There is a word for believers like Williams, and that word is "unconsoled."
Williams is also a brilliant ironist, perhaps peerless, and much admired by other writers for her consummate craft. Of the many qualities of her prose—clarity, economy, intelligence, complete mastery of the sentence—the most conspicuous is authority. Writing for Williams is a truth-telling enterprise, an act of witness, a form of prayer.
In Honored Guest, her most recent collection of stories, all these gifts are ...