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Honored Guest

Honored Guest - Joy Williams

My sister built up Joy Williams to an almost mythological state in my mind. She’s earned her highest regard and I can see now why she touched her so much. Reading Joy Williams is like finding your book twin over and over again. I like to listen to my sister discuss the books she reads and then read them later on myself fresh. It’s great to experience these books through her mind. I started that habit with my older siblings as a kid but unfortunately, the books my brother told me about didn’t live up to his version of the stories. Joy Williams stories on the other hand, should be lived by everyone.

Marabou and Hammer were almost frightening in the portrayal of the callousness of youth. My favourite part of Hammer, a story about a woman Angela, whose daughter Darlene despises her, is that she’d regret her daughter losing an aspect of herself if she grew out of hating her. That something would break inside Darlene if she did so. That idea of choosing to be hated rather than someone break was interesting. Angela was deeply fascinating and I was pleased when Deke took to her. I would not have that quality inside me to return love to someone who hated me so much. I have no fantasies about myself that I could.

Claro read to me of the exact opposite intentions that Angela felt towards Darlene. Lilly is suffering from an illness while her husband Danny has made significant progress. Lilly doesn’t like people, and remarks she may have been an Ash tree once. Ash trees don’t care for people. I appreciate that while writing about characters who are socially awkward or don’t like other people Williams makes me like people more, feel less alone and relate more to others. Eduardo, the servant, whose face shifts from hatred to love with such ease has a daughter Stephanie. Eduardo realizes that Lilly admires Stephanie so he doesn’t tell her about her throwing a cat in the toilet.
What intrigued me the most in this story was this part: “She was learning ignorance, Lily marveled. She had begun to be false, false to herself and others. Lily would not allow this, she would not. This the child of whom Barbara had said, “Why, she thinks you hung the moon!” She had a responsibility to this child. Danny asks Eduardo the next day what she was upset about and he replies “Stomachache.” Was this another lie to cover another misdeed? Or did Lilly destroy Stephanie by trying to keep her true to herself. I don’t think Angela would have forced another person to remain as she wished them to be.

The only frightening young tough in the story Fortune was Harold. There wasn’t something right about him in June’s mind. They were a rather peaceful bunch staying in Guatemala. No one fell in love like their parents did.

In Marabou, Anne’s son Harry dies. The druggie and former druggie friends of his were creepy. I can’t get the image of them crowding outside her door after they returned, demanding to be told the real version of their trip to Africa.
Honored Guest and Substance are more stories dealing with death but one in Honored Guest, it hadn’t taken place yet. Helen’s mother Lenore is dying of cancer. The dream world, Helen’s world and Lenore’s brief moments of feeling better [which she worried wouldn’t be fair to Helen] were effortlessly weaved together alongside the shifting perspectives of the two characters. Helen’s starkly different pain of feeling suicide wasn’t cool at her school, or her mother wanting life not to go on without her. The fact of life was summed up at the end with the girl on her bus who knew how these things went.

Substance is a story about a group of friends who are all left a specific item after their friend’s suicide. No one knows the meaning of their gifts, but will be revealed at a later time. We the readers never discover the reason but I have two theories. Either, the twins discovery of Pablo Neruda’s ”Death also goes through the world dressed like a broom” is as good as anything I’d come up with. Louise gets the dog Broom who she slowly gets used to. Louise reminded me of Angela from Hammer in the way that she slowly got used to things. Lucretia reflected that she’d lost her spark. Was this from having old Broom around? Or maybe Elliot had no reason to leave pajamas, watches and things to his friends.

Anodyne is about a diabetic teenager whose mother sort of picks up a shooting instructor for dinner. She doesn’t even like him but has him around anyway. She describes it as her mom isn’t the sort of person who objects to each day. There seemed to be a sense of letting go but not the loss of anything she did have like Louise. The depression and general unhappiness that isn’t all encompassing but just giving in to things. Hammer had that quality about Angela as well. The reason of that depression is the death of her father.
ACK is also about depression. The narrator is grateful to his wife, Pauline, for rescuing him in that he could feel assurance through her. His friends Betty and Bruce lament this happiness for him. I wasn’t too sure they really saved him from anything. The awful woman Starky, and her description of her ten kids felt wholly oppressive. Pauline’s looks and whispers were right on with that one.

Congress is the highlight among this wonderful set of stories. Miriam’s boyfriend Jack is a forensic anthropologist. His students cannot understand why he is with Miriam. I found that Miriam ended up a bit like Jack in the end. He liked to make up little stories for the bones he worked on.
“She was a loner, adventurous, not well educated and probably unemployed. Odds are the rings were stolen. She would have certainly done herself a favor by passing up the temptation of those rings.” Miriam lands a job at a taxidermist in the end precisely because she can make up different answers for the visitors questions and talk to the animals. Poor Jack takes on suggestions from his student Carl and ends up paralysed and a vegetable. Carl absolutely killed me. “He likes you!” and when Miriam asked him if he’d ever been in love before. Now the lamp, I read that straight as the lamp really read books. Miriam reads a book a loud ”I shot him right up his big fat fanny” without realizing the damage to poor lamp. The lamp held steady. His disagreements with the books they read captivated me and when he read Moby Dick I’d wish she’d been reading it with him to hear his thoughts on it. I’m hard pressed to pick a favourite quote but this: Miriam had always felt that she was the kind of person who somehow quenched in the least exacting stranger any desire for conversation with her.

The Visiting Privilege is a story about truly not being accepted into a conversation. Donna reflects the best thing her best friend Christine did was get committed to the Pond, a mental institution. She likes to pretend that the elder lady is her mother and takes an interest in her. Christine is disgusted by Donna’s interest in the old lady and the two fat girls despise Donna for not paying them that attention. She tries to listen to the group therapy sessions until she is caught and kicked out.

Charity and The Other Week were more marvelous stories of self-reflection and making up identities for other people. In Charity, Janice reflects that without her boyfriend Richard, she would be capable of awe and transfiguration. With him, she felt nothing. Janice evoked to me a person who blames others for being held back and imagining something from strangers.

In The Other Week, Francine is the object of another person’s imagination of themself. Francine and Freddie are having financial problems due to his not having a job for three years and her sleeping twenty hours a day. Williams vividly describes that status between sleeping and awaking. It is so easy to become addicted to sleeping. Francine’s gardener accepts not being paid as he convinces himself she is his deceased babysitter Darla. The unspoken horror of this story is what happened to that dog Freddie took for walks. I have a dreadful feeling he was a sacrifice of some sort when the other dog-walkers congratulated her.