The Vis­it­ing Priv­i­lege: New and Se­lected Sto­ries

The Guardian - Review - - Review | Fiction - Neel Mukher­jee

by Joy Williams (Ser­pent’s Tail, £9.99)

That the general Bri­tish read­er­ship is un­aware of per­haps the great­est liv­ing mas­ter of the short story, the 73-year-old Amer­i­can writer Joy Williams, is a mat­ter of some shame – but also cause for ex­ul­ta­tion, be­cause an en­thralling dis­cov­ery awaits. Mys­tery seems to be the very soul of her sto­ries, whether it lies in their in­ter­pre­tive in­de­ter­mi­nacy, in the sur­real turn some of them take, or in their fre­quent ges­tures to­wards the meta­phys­i­cal; they re­main ir­re­duc­ible and in­ex­haustible. Nearly all of her nar­ra­tives pivot on a trans­for­ma­tive mo­ment, of­ten oc­cur­ring out­side the mar­gins of the pages. The new sto­ries are mostly about the fi­nal and great­est of all trans­for­ma­tions: dy­ing and death. Like some sub­atomic par­ti­cle, Williams can be in two states si­mul­ta­ne­ously, com­pas­sion­ate and ruth­less. Her vi­sion is an­gu­lar, un­de­luded, as­trin­gent. The blank space be­tween each of her sen­tences is loaded with in­tel­li­gence and sur­prise, be­cause you can never tell what the next sen­tence is go­ing to be or bring.

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