books, Reading, Women Writers

“The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories” by Joy Williams


“[My mother] stood up and came around the table and kissed me. She smelled then like the glass that was always in the sink in the morning, and the smell reminds me still of daring and deception, hopes and little lies.”


Accomplished short story writer Joy Williams brings stories of melancholy and heart-ache in her collection “The Visiting Privilege”. Williams’s stories are intimate character sketches, each with people flawed and full. In forty-six stories of relationships – familial and romantic – Williams creates a throng of eerily familiar and dishearteningly lost souls. Her stories are not filled with catastrophe or calamity, but are on the order of Thoreau’s world view; the mass live lives of “quiet desperation”.

“‘I’m glad you enjoyed your summer, Dan, and I hope you’re enjoying your childhood. When you grow up, a shadow falls. Everything’s sunny and then this big goddamn wing or something passes overhead.”

So speaks a father figure in one of Williams’s stories, and the metaphor aptly describes my experience with this book. The stories were well written, with beautiful turns of phrase sprinkled throughout a beige pall of quotidian bleakness. Little happens by way of plot but, more to the point, little happens to offer hope. I think, perhaps, the author was the only Joy in this book, which, in the end, meant that what many readers (and even this reader, perhaps, in a different mindset) would have found to be a pleasant stroll through a quiet wood was experienced as a slog through mud on a drizzly day.


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