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The Quick and the Dead

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  738 ratings  ·  115 reviews
Misanthropic Alice is a budding eco-terrorist; Corvus has dedicated herself to mourning; Annabel is desperate to pursue an ordinary American life of indulgences. Misfit and motherless, they share an American desert summer of darkly illuminating signs and portents. In locales as mirrored strange as a nursing home where the living dead are preserved, to a wildlife museum whe ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published January 8th 2002 by Vintage (first published 2000)
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Pulitzer Prize Finalists
54th out of 68 books — 60 voters
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Books judged by their cover
97th out of 161 books — 90 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,053)
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Dec 26, 2013 Mariel rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Madam Tussaud and Hitler's love child
Recommended to Mariel by: Emil Martin
I liked The Quick and the Dead a whole lot. I like it for the things that are hard to describe why I liked it a lot. Like, all of the characters, every single last one of them, speak as if they are in a novel where everyone speaks like they are in a novel. This could have irritated the fuck out of me. I hate it when authors use their characters to tell people about all of the stuff they wanted to say and never found one big place to do it all before. I really hate, pretty much more than anything ...more
Nate D
Feb 09, 2015 Nate D rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: where life ends and endless desert begins
Recommended to Nate D by: Mariel
As Mariel approved and MJ disparaged, this is book full of lines delivered like lines in a novel (or film) where people speak as if they're in a novel (or film). Which might bug you. But to me, really, who needs naturalism? These lines each shine (the action too, not just the dialogue) like perfect fragments pithily conveying the absurdity of life and the moments that define it. It might all become a directionless wash of clever observations, but for the Joy Williams' ability to suffuse the enti ...more
I discovered Williams from an intro she did for Jane Bowles, so this may color my review slightly. But Williams is the heir apparent to the twisted comic crown once (briefly) worn by Bowles (who someone once called “the Buxter Poindexter of prose”). But like Bowles she is sui generis, but they definitely travel in the same park. Insane characters revealing themselves with deadpan confessions delivered in stylized dialogue is the main show here. The elliptical “plot” or “structure” is as open end ...more
Josh Friedlander
The fifth-highest community review of this book on Goodreads is by a gentleman who awarded it one star, alluding to its "lack of plot" and comparing it unfavourably to "Dan Brown's Robert Langdon series". I don't generally like to belittle other people's opinions, or to play the intellectual snobbery game, so I'll just note that the reader in question wasn't the target audience for this book, and might more profitably be directed toward a different section of the library altogether. But a wider ...more
MJ Nicholls
May 06, 2012 MJ Nicholls marked it as dropped  ·  review of another edition
I tried 50pp of this novel but couldn’t find much to cling to. I think Mariel nails it in her review: the characters speak as if they were in a novel where everyone speaks as if they’re in a novel. I also found the prose heavy with those carefully crafted profound-sounding sentences where the author imparts profound sentiments in profound-sounding prose, where they reader is asked to step back and say, woah . . . heavy! This sounds churlish. I know. I loved some of these sentences but there was ...more
The Quick and the Dead is a story of modern America and all its neuroses. There are a lot of characters in the story, and story lines that sometimes interact, but other times remain fairly isolated. Of the characters, the three teenage girls, Alice, Annabel, and Corvus are fairly memorable. Alice's environmental, vegetarian self-righteousness; Annabel's upper-class materialism and propriety, and Corvus' emptiness. From these characters, we are linked to Carter, Annabel's dad whose dead wife appe ...more
Nov 09, 2007 Edan rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Molly McDonald, Stephanie Ford, Julia Whicker, Marshall Presnick.
The Quick and the Dead is easily one of the oddest books I've ever read, and one of the most inspiring: oh the glorious things language can do! This novel is fairly short, but it took me weeks to get through it as there's not much narrative drive to speak of. Once I understood this, I simply reveled in Williams' stunning imagination and her comic lovely prose. 3 teenaged girls, a bitch of a ghost, and the cruel, apathetic desert. Fuck, this is awesome.

"A truck tore by on the road above them, its
Ryan Schumacher
I hate giving up on books. I will usually trudge through one until the end, even if I'm not particularly enjoying it. But I couldn't make it with this one. Hence the one star. It's too bad because I actually think that the author is extremely talented. There were some passages or paragraphs that I reread a couple times because I thought they were brilliant. But there was no story. I made it about half way through the novel, and I had no idea why I was reading about these people. I felt like I wa ...more
in an interview with bob dylan on his songwriting process, i remember reading that for him, songwriting was about taking a story and "turning it on its head." i think that phrase aptly describes williams's writing as well. she has a knack for taking an ordinary phrase, turning it on its head, and crafting a truly beautiful sentence. i agree with the goodreads review where it says that her characters don't speak ordinary dialogue, but instead talk like prophets. and especially the retirement home ...more
Early on in the book a character named Alice speaks of wanting "to possess a savage glitter" and that is exactly what this novel achieves, masterfully. This was equally delightful and disturbing and filled with so many wonderfully odd characters (Alice, Nurse Daisy, Emily Bliss Pickles(s)!!!!). There where numerous sentences and whole passages so stunningly crafted that left my mouth agape in awe/horror/both. This is a novel I'm definitely going to have to read again, and again, and again.

A través de su prosa terriblemente ingeniosa, perversa y sofisticada (con fuertes influencias de Emily Dickinson y su oscuro romanticismo), Joy Williams ha tejido un extraordinario entramado de historias que crece ante nuestros propios ojos como un organismo autosuficiente y dotado de voluntad propia, un conglomerado poliédrico de escenarios casi mitológicos, poderosas voces narrativas y situaciones del todo inverosímiles donde el límite entre la realidad y el mero espejismo está más difuso q
Dec 28, 2014 Jonathan rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jonathan by: Mariel
Good, but I prefer her short stories I think...
If Joy Williams were just a little less brilliant and withering, I'd hate her. Blatantly unrealistic, overblown dialogue, tangential approach to story/narrative (no rapid page-turning here, really; and even the strength of the writing wasn't enough to keep me from turning to other novels occasionally), cynical ruthlessness towards her own characters along with a stubborn resistance to portraying any successful/hopeful connection between humans.

But, I get the comparisons to Flannery O'Connor. Th
Tim Lepczyk
Joy Williams’ The Quick and the Dead is unlike any novel I’ve read. What separates this book from a lot of writing is the ever shifting point of view, and the how characters enter and leave the narrative in ways that do not conform to any of the advice from the dozens of books on fiction writing.

If I had to pare down the prose for a blurb or a quick summary, I’d say this novel is about the boundaries between living and dying. The characters seem caught in a state where they are neither wholly al
I’m not sure what to make of this very peculiar book. The structure is superficially simple: three motherless teenage girls in an unnamed New Mexico city (Santa Fe?) bond together over a summer. But this is not realism. Each of the girls, and every other character, is a two-dimensional symbolic container rather than a three-dimensional human character. The book is often very funny and satirical, and at other times deliberately otherworldly (a major subplot concerns one of the dead mothers, who i ...more
There is no one like Joy Williams. There's that, at least. Her short stories changed my life, seriously, but I don't know what to make of this novel yet. At times, it reminded me a little of Delillo's Underworld, which I didn't enjoy, but was saved by some truly original and beautiful, shocking moments. Williams is brilliant. She seems to know so much and to see into the world, down to what is hidden. By the end, I was ready for it to be over. Well, honestly, before the end, I was ready.

I don't
Tim Storm
Well, I enjoyed this one. Williams has a wonderful cast of quirky characters, and the story certainly lives up to its title: the meandering narrative is more an exploration of living and dying than it is a proper plot.

WIlliams does all sorts of things that might piss off a more traditionally-minded reader. She doesn't pay much attention to character motivation (I can't figure out what Alice, the main protagonist, really wants); her pov bounces around between omniscient and third limited; there
I'm still not sure what to think of this book. It has a very meandering plot that doesn't go anywhere and doesn't really have a start, a middle or an end. There were a lot of characters that didn't really seem to fit together and there was little overlap between the characters. I didn't understand if the 'ghost' of Ginger was a ghost or if she was a figment of a mind going mad. Nothing was really explained or fully developed. I just didn't get it. None of the characters was likeable and I learnt ...more
Aug 21, 2007 Rupert rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: sentient beings
I've always loved Joy Williams' stories, but her novels have always felt too fractured or like over-extended short stories. This one, though, is brilliant with poetic bending of syntax, compelling characters (more allegorical than flesh and blood, though), uniquely dark humor and a deep but not self righteous sensitivity to the vanishing natural world. The kind of book that has many segments that made me want to run and read it out loud to friends. But then I remembered I am trapped in a giant s ...more
This was the saltiest book I've read in five years. And I relished every grain of it. Not for the faint-hearted, and if you're into plot-driven narratives, this probably isn't your bag. But Williams' prose astounds me every time, and her humor had me laughing out loud at 3 am at one point. The best grim depiction of nursing homes and the tragedy of aging that I've seen.
This is the second time I have tried to read this book, given to me by a friend whose literary opinion I deeply respect. but man, i just couldn't do it. ended up skimming the last half. Williams is a good writer, technically. But the characters were all so unhappy or indifferent or simply unpleasant-- I had an instinctive repulsion for the book.
This book was a struggle for me. I kept rallying myself forward, made it a little past 200 pages and simply didn't bother anymore. Right off the bat I knew I hated Alice. She's one of those overbearing, self-righteous individuals who believes she's spreading the word to the ignorant and has to make a point out of everything. She got on my nerves very quickly. The rest of the characters seemed like they were there simply because they existed and the reader just went through their everyday lives w ...more
Kobe Bryant
I liked the part where a guys dead wife's ghost kept bugging him and he just wanted her to leave him alone so he could hang out with his friend Donald
Kris Dinnison
William's quirky, magical novel is inhabited by one of the most interesting and comically disturbing casts of characters I can remember. The backbone of the story is three teenage girls, all without mothers, trying to find their way in a fractured, twisted adult world. But Williams brings to their journey bigger questions of life, death, and living in ways that make the reader do his or her own share of self-reflection. Beautifully written and unforgettable. ...more
One of the best novels ever!
Vincent Scarpa
Show me a novel better than this one and I'll eat my shoes. Joy Williams has a peerless command over language, and the acrobatics she performs throughout this book with her words is really something to behold. What I mean is that I went through three highlighters reading this book, wanting to yellow up every page. The characters—especially the three young girls who own much of the novel's time—have stayed with me ever since I first read this book a few years ago. Alice's misanthropic, misguided ...more
I must have hit the wrong key and my review is entered as a comment so I will type it here as I really enjoyed this book: This is the strangest book I have read since I used to read Tom Robbins years ago. I liked it a lot, I don't enjoy giving away plots so I won't. I also won't recommend it for book club because I don't think most would like it at all. This book left me at a loss for words but have decide to rise to the challenge. It introduced me to more words I have never heard of in my life, ...more
Wow, this is a wise and wacky and brilliant book. What a singular imagination.

This is very much a post-modern novel with flourishes of the same hung on a surreal plot, if it may be called that. Each of the girls is trying to find her way in an essentially hostile world that William regularly lampoons. This is Ray, who has been captured by the three A-girls out on a hike: “There was something vaguely quasi-religious to this, even sexual—not at this exact moment, of course, but possibly in a futur
This is the second book I've read on tao lin's recommendation (not personal, he just mentioned it in his blog), the first being Anagrams. Funnily enough, I've never read any of his books...

Anyhoo, both recommendations were excellent. I was in and out of this one, however. The main character, Alice, I adored, and the long introductory description of the big game hunter was excellent. But some characters were a bit over the top and simply too obvious, such as Ray with the monkey in his brain. Will
Aug 11, 2012 Catherine marked it as abandoned
Shelves: 2012
Joy Williams' short story "Baba Iaga and the Pelican Child" was another one I enjoyed from My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales and this is supposed to be one of her best novels. I think she's the 6th author from that collection that I've picked up, with mixed results, proving that what I like in small doses is not always desirable in larger amounts.

One reviewer of this novel said that (paraphrased) the characters in this novel speak like characters in a novel. Th
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Williams is the author of four novels. Her first, State of Grace (1973), was nominated for a National Book Award for Fiction. Her most recent novel, The Quick and the Dead (2000), was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Her first collection of short stories was Taking Care, published in 1982. A second collection, Escapes, followed in 1990. A 2001 essay collection, Ill Nature: Rants and ...more
More about Joy Williams...
Honored Guest Taking Care Breaking and Entering Escapes State of Grace

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“You have never seen such animals as these who without a sound or a sign carry you off. You race with them across the long familiar ground that in that moment seems so glorious, so charged with beauty, strange. In their jaws you are carried so effortlessly, with such great care that you think it will never end, you long for it not to end, and then you wake and know that, indeed, they have not brought you back.” 2 likes
“He could almost taste the tang of that swampy air right here in his own desert parking lot and hear the calls of the heavily beating flock, sorrowing and apologizing and making plans for some other time. Time. He realized that crows had always reminded him of time, dark time. He gazed at the backs of his hands, at the plummy dark repellent veins.” 2 likes
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