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Honored Guest: Stories Hardcover – October 5, 2004


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The troubled characters in Williams' latest short stories, set in locales as diverse as Maine and Mexico, don't have the wherewithal to do anything but brood, with the exception of a forensic anthropologist who solves the mysteries of scattered bones, hair, and teeth, a feat not unlike the one Williams pulls off in these canny and dissecting tales of fractured lives. 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. In the title story, a teenager trapped in a hellish limbo as her mother nears death is told about an aboriginal people who treat a ritualistically captured and caged bear as an honored guest until it's time to torture and sacrifice him. This becomes the mordantly existential collection's reigning metaphor, as Williams portrays loners and misfits, abused animals, and children who suffer as adults divorce, disappear, go broke, go crazy, get sick, and commit suicide. 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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (October 5, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679446478
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679446477
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #953,962 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Myfanwy Collins on January 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Honored Guest is a remarkable book. I will not say that it is easy to read, because it is not; it is heartbreaking. I will not say that you will love and cheer for each of the characters, because you will not; they are flawed. I will say that if you are lucky enough to read this book, you will be shattered into a million shards and glued back together, over and over again. And it will be worth it.

I could not read this book quickly. In fact, after reading the title story, "Honored Guest", I had to stop for a few days because I could not breathe. It is the heartbreaking story of a young woman living with her dying mother. There is no huge revelation at the end. All there is, is the knowledge that the mother will die and the girl will go on living. And yet, you feel as though you have come through something at the end. You feel as though you have made it. You have lived. And yes, maybe life is going to be crappier now, but you're still alive.

No less harrowing is the final story, "Fortune", about a bunch of thoughtlessly cruel, disaffected 20-somethings (I'm guessing at their ages but it seems most likely they are in their early 20s) living in a foreign country who practice "concern" (as well as the other "more subtle emotions") by such acts as letting a beggar boy have a pancake off one's plate and taking in a stray dog (which hates being owned). None of the main characters are worth much and yet we are left with June and her desire. Her hope is that she will have or does have a personality. And even though these characters seem irredeemable there is still something so magical about this story. And what it is is that we are glad not to be those people. In the end, we are glad to be who we are-all safe and smug reading about them and knowing that we know how to feel.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Adam C. Hill on October 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Joy Williams is a treasure who deserves a broader readsership and a higher profile. If you haven't read her before, this collection is a fine

place to start. It exemplifies everything that's distinct about her: a loopy, lyrical style, totally original points of view, and quirky characters that you actually care about. Among her novels, State of Grace is my favorite, though you really can't go wrong with any of Joy Williams' books. Check her out.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Guest on December 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover
After I read these stories I looked at a review that called the stories "funny." I swore and had to read them all over again and damned if that reviewer wasn't right. I laughed all the way through 'em the second time. The first time I almost cried because her characters are so broken, so alienated, so deeply strange. It was only on a second read that I realized that ultimately all these freaks are full of hope, whether it's what most of us would call hope is immaterial. And it made me laugh, but not in a nice Hello Kitty kind of way, kinda in an I'm-going-to-flip-out-and-do-something-outlandish kind of way.

The weird thing is, I look at the author photo and Williams looks like one of those women who exercises in the outdoors and walks vigorously everywhere. But man, that tanned face and toothy grin doesn't hide the fact that she's got a deep dark corner in her soul that pours strange and lonely magic onto the page. She's an original, a Southern Gothic of the Southwest.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Bohdan Kot on January 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Joy Williams' collection of short stories, "Honored Guest", is a sobering account of lives unable to deal with death. The characters struggle to be happy, but the fog of a recent death or an approaching one, sometimes their own, proves to be an insurmountable obstacle. The title short story has the teenage Helen taking care of her terminally ill mother, Lenore. Helen learns of the aboriginal people called the Ainu and their sacred ritual: they would capture a bear cub, nurse, raise and treat the bear wonderfully as a "honored guest" till the time calls for its sacrifice. Helen summarizes the perspective of Williams' characters, "To live was like being an honored guest."

Funerals, suicides, and illness dominate the stories while any happiness is approached with caution. The storylines are bleak and despondent, but the downward spiral lives are beautifully illustrated thanks to Williams' sword-sharp details and touches of black comedy. Helen relates a story about a classmate's failed suicide: "A girl had taken an overdose of Tylenol which of course did nothing at all, but word of it got out and when she came back to school her locker had been broken into and was full of Tylenol, just jammed with it."

Williams' exploration of death will be uncomfortable for some readers. However, what is most frustrating is that none of the characters seem equipped to handle life or death. They act as helpless as the Ainu bear, the "honored guest."

Bohdan Kot
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By blackandwhitedog on December 31, 2010
Format: Paperback
Joy Williams is a genius. She's not like anyone else, of course, although readers who love her often refer to her as the literary heir to Flannery O'Connor, but that's just a marker, a title, as it were. She is simultaneously spiritual and darkly, wickedly funny, which is another reason she reminds me of O'Connor. Why on earth don't more people read her? Or know who she is? I have no idea.
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