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The Quick and the Dead (Vintage Contemporaries) Kindle Edition

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Length: 319 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled

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Amazon.com Review

Don't read Joy Williams if you're looking for Oprah-style stories of redemption--stories in which the human spirit triumphs. And don't look to her for a mirror of reality; with this author, there's never the sense that "I've been there" or "I identify." Williams creates novels and stories that operate under a tightly wound surrealist aesthetic. She distorts the world, but her distortions are subtle enough that you don't see them coming. You can't predict when the logic of dream will take over the logic of the text. Like the filmmaker David Lynch, Williams sees pathology and the ominous everywhere; she renders a world that looks familiar but is slightly off. Like Don DeLillo, she's a sprawling, ambitious writer whose characters often talk in a lovely, unbelievable poetry, as if they were prophets, or preachers, or ghosts.

The Quick and the Dead, Williams's fourth novel, follows a series of linked stories, all taking place in Arizona. Indeed, it could be called a desert epic, so dependent is its narrative momentum on the desert's eventual consumption of its inhabitants. These characters are consumed by thirst and mirages, by dry dreams of a lifeless landscape. They reside in a state of spiritual flatness and emptiness.

At the heart of the book, three motherless teenage girls befriend each other, go on camping trips, lay out in the sun by the rich girl's pool. Corvus, Alice, and Annabel are, respectively, spooky, apocalyptic, and prom-queen vain. In the course of things, they encounter, among others, a gay piano player named Sherwin who lives in a smelly apartment and constantly wears a tux, and a retirement-home nurse who entertains her patients with one-liners like: "Thoughts are infusorial" and "The set trap never tires of waiting." Perhaps most memorable is a cowboy-hatted stroke victim called Ray who believes a monkey lives in the back of his brain. Ray hitchhikes and steals credit cards. When he hasn't eaten for a while, the animal takes over: "The little monkey was climbing the walls in his head, making clear that it wanted out. Any avenue along the capillaries would do. There was an awful craving to get out. Ray didn't feel well."

Other lively phenomena interrupting the prevailing desert stillness: an injured deer leaping over a fence into a swimming pool in the middle of a party; a man shot in the desert by a couple of stoned guys shooting at cacti; a reappearing ghost called Ginger (Annabel's mother) who arrives every night to rail at her alcoholic widower husband, berating his clothes and his investment strategies.

In the hands of a lesser artist these various, often forcefully bizarre characters and events could have seemed like the work of someone out to impress with her weirdness. But Williams is the real thing, and The Quick and the Dead is her visionary world--a place so unmistakably doomed, it literally gives you the chills. --Emily White

From Publishers Weekly

"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 protagonistsAbeautiful, 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 mistrustAa 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 psychesAand to how even our smallest decisions matter to others in ways we may never know. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 3361 KB
  • Print Length: 319 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0375727647
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (September 1, 2010)
  • Publication Date: September 1, 2010
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0041D8UHC
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #265,015 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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26 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 27, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is a darkly comedic novel by one of America's premiere writers of fiction. Reviewers have compared her to Flannery O'Connor and that comparison is valid in terms of originality and the ability to cut through the pretense of life and reveal what people do and what they think beneath the surface of convention. But Joy Williams does not have Flannery O'Connor's polished sense of story and structure; however she doesn't need it. She has instead an eagle's eye for detail and an awesome command of language. Her characters are alive with the quickness of life, its strange twists and turns, its Shakespearean absurdity and its banality and wonder. So insightful and so sharply rendered is her prose that it alone carries us along. Into the mouths of babes she puts words of wisdom and out the mouths of her everyday people emerge worldly philosophies.

Thus 8-year-old Emily Bliss Pickless, who likes to pour dirt on her head and to pretend she doesn't know how to read to see if adults will try to mislead her, observes, "You had to act dumb around adults, otherwise there was no point in being around them at all." Assessing her mother's new boyfriend, she concludes, "...mother lacked all discrimination when it came to men." (p. 167) When she has finished re-educating the proprietor of the stuffed animal/trophy museum, we find it shut down with her sign out front, accurately announcing, "CLOSED FOR RECONSIDERATION."

Thus Nurse Daisy, as she washes Freddie Fallow, an elderly 350-pound mountain of an old man (who had to be hoisted into the tub with the aid of block and tackle), muses, "Isn't water a remarkable element? It's exempt from getting wet. It's as exempt from getting wet as God is exempt from the passion of love." (p.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I don't know how I managed to overlook Joy Williams before. If her other books are even half as good as this (and I plan to find out right away), it will be a miracle. The Quick and the Dead could very well be the best novel I've read this year. The language constantly surprises, and she very deftly conjures a narrative out of the most elusive (and allusive) elements. Comic, profound, and remarkably thoughtful. Comparable in some ways to Lynda Barry's Cruddy (another great book), but utterly original. I can't gush enough.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Saunders on November 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Having paid little regard to the literary careerist's rule of "publish early and publish often," Joy Williams tends to be underrated. Only four fiction titles stand in between her State of Grace, nominated for the 1974 National Book Award, and this new novel.
Williams is sometimes taken as an inheritor for Flannery O'Connor, who died in 1964. Both exhibit ferocious intellects that, for all their fascination, you wouldn't necessarily want as permanent next-door neighbours.
Corvus, Alice and Annabel are three motherless children pinned down in a harsh American desert landscape. The wraith of Annabel's mother pitilessly upbraids her father, all the while coyly inviting him into her "skeleton arms". Alice assists the still-living dead at the old folks' home, while Corvus tries her hand at arson.
As various characters explain helpfully, the human body is but a thief and a counterpart, while its annihilation is no failure, but merely "a night between two days ... the Radiant Coat". In The Quick and the Dead, death's personal business calls are inventive and grimly amusing.
Williams has lost none of her metaphysical skills but, structurally, her earlier novel Breaking and Entering is the more elegant.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By R. Hewitt on July 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover
First off,to the Reader From Toronto above:the answer to your question is YES!Ms.Williams other works are just as wonderful as TQATD.Especially the novel, "Breaking and Entering",which is somewhat similar in feel.And the book of stories,"Taking Care",which is where I first discovered Williams work.And I do agree that this should have won the Pulitzer.But why should we expect those judges to ever think outside the box and use their imaginations-LOOSEN UP already!And I'm in agreement with the prior reviewer that Flannery O'Connor is Williams'obvious antecedent -an excellent model to follow,nuff said.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By wordtron on February 6, 2002
Format: Paperback
A quirky and fastidious rant of a novel about 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. Funny and 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, endlessly surprising, vaguely apocalyptic, Williams' vision is unapologetically idiosyncratic, yet desperately relevant to our spiritual survival.
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