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The Woman at the Washington Zoo: Writings on Politics, Family, and Fate Hardcover – November 10, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Washington, D.C., is a city ruled by insiders, and few writers have broken through the social and public politics that govern it as eloquently as Williams. This posthumous collection presents a series of remarkably well-observed and intelligent profiles of the great and minor figures who have made D.C. for the past two decades. Williams, a longtime writer for the Washington Post and Vanity Fair, has a fine eye for telling details—the license plates on a bureaucrat's car, the folds of satin in a dying socialite's dress—but it's more than just details that make Williams's profiles so engaging. Underlying each representation is Williams's ability to make her characters as complicated on the page as they are in real life. It's that same concern that governs the heartbreaking personal pieces in the last third of the book, which covers Williams's losing battle with cancer. Here she is on her impending death: "whatever happens to me now, I've earned the knowledge some people never gain, that my span is finite and I still have the chance to rise and rise to life's generosity." In these final pieces, Williams steps out from under the self-effacing veil that made her such a fine journalist and speaks of her own experiences. The result is a collection of writing that dissolves the boundaries between the personal and the political to arrive at an obvious but no less startling conclusion. (Nov.)
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"...offers many pleasures and surprises...this collection is a splendid memorial to an elegant prose stylist." -- The Los Angeles Times, November 27, 2005
"A master at capturing human spirit and character in print" -- Karen Algeo Krizman, Rocky Mountain News, November 11, 2005
"Her writing...stands out for what simmers just beneath, whether it's a passage of excavatory reporting or a personal, painful insight..." -- The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, November 28, 2005
"Piercing perceptiveness about the messy human beings lying beneath the portentous personas of great Washington figures" -- David Brooks, New York Times, November 6, 2005
"Williams's journalistic gifts include her delicious use of detail, wicked humor and a psychological insight..." -- The Washington Post, November 17, 2005
... what this book reveals is a woman...cheated by fate, but facing reality unflinchingly and asserting personal honor despite it all. -- David Brooks, The New York Times, November 6, 2005
...combines peerless political anthropology with heartbreaking insight into the complexities of family life and her own struggle with cancer. -- Newsweek, November 21, 2005
A fitting tribute... [Williams was] a master at capturing human spirit and character...readers...simply looking for great writing won't be disappointed. -- The Rocky Mountain News, November 11, 2005
We'ree lucky to have this collection to remind us of what we'll be missing with Marjorie Williams gone. -- The Buffalo News, November 13, 2005
Williams is so knowing about Washingtons folkways...that readers will feel they are sitting down with a world-class political storyteller. -- The Buffalo News, November 13, 2005
Top customer reviews
From an alcoholic literary family, Ms. Williams was brilliant at Harvard, ambitious in her work with Joni Evans at Viking Press before launching another career in her mid-twenties at The Washington Post, and an exacting wordsmith where writing was her gift but her family was her life. (A comparable life of the poet Jane Keynon was published this year by her husband Donald Hall: "The Best Day, The Worst Day." Ms. Keynon was another gifted wordsmith who would also die at the age of 47.)
Her husband picked the best of her observations on life and politics from Vanity Fair and The Washington Post. It is amazing how many politicians would allow themselves to be interviewed by her, when time after time, she would be brutally honest in her attention to details and her summations. "The Woman at the Washington Zoo" is best read as memoir celebrating a life fully lived and tragically cut short for her family. How do you live, knowing that you will die sooner than later and leave your two young children behind? This book is that answer.
I don't want to minimize Williams' work with political figures and famous people - she was wonderfully adept at navigating those channels and getting people to talk.
But the essay "The Halloween of My Dreams" should be required reading. It is, quite simply, one of the most beautiful, human pieces of writing you will read. EVER.
Williams learned how the animals behave, what their goals are and why this is important for us to understand. I wish she was still with us so that she could explain what is happening there now.
(...)What would you do if you learned you had a short time to live? Though Williams hits on the many levels at which she had to deal -- her doctors' condescension, her treatment, her hope and despair -- what sticks is this: "What you do, if you have little kids, is lead as normal a life as possible, only with more pancakes." (...)
The end-piece, about 50 pages dealing with her diagnosis and journey with liver cancer, is the best cancer memoir I have ever read, and I've read more than a few of them.
She was some kind of woman -- tragic that it must be written "was."