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Honored Guest

4.02 of 5 stars 4.02  ·  rating details  ·  510 ratings  ·  58 reviews
With her singular brand of gorgeous dark humor, Joy Williams explores the various ways–comic, tragic, and unnerving—we seek to accommodate diminishment and loss. A masseuse breaks her rich client's wrist bone, a friend visits at the hospital long after she is welcome, and a woman surrenders her husband to a creepily adoring student. From one of our most acclaimed writers, ...more
Paperback, 228 pages
Published November 8th 2005 by Vintage (first published 2004)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,663)
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Garima
"But your life’s center is on the periphery."
In the grand scheme of things, little things sometimes fail to become an indispensable part of the complete picture and inadvertently choose a different path for themselves. They walk alone, live through the day and quietly go to sleep without holding any promise of opening their eyes the next day. For me, short stories are made out of such ephemeral yet strong happenings. I approach them with almost zero expectations and whatever I receive in exchan
...more
Mariel
Mar 31, 2012 Mariel rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: my only friend
Recommended to Mariel by: the empty dog food and drink bowls
Shelves: my-love-life
I'm not a particularly nice person, Dennis. I've had to admit that to myself, and I'll admit it to you as well. I might have been nice once but I get by the best I can now. I don't even know how you'd look at someone, at anything, with your whole heart. Why, you'd wear yourself out. You'd become nothing but a cinder. Life would become intolerable in no time. Now, it sounds as though you had a very fortunate childhood until you didn't. It's what I always think when I see cows grazing in the field ...more
Adam
Joy Williams is just genius. I want to plagiarize it all. The elliptical “plots”(or parody of plots), the savage humor, surreal dialogue, the palpable threat in nearly every line, absurd situations, her unsettling and painfully convincing vision of life, and her handling of death, anxiety, sickness, and ecology and our place in the natural world. If you are fan of Jane Bowles and the films of David Lynch you must read Williams.
Mykle
I wonder why I don't give this more stars. It's absolutely gorgeous writing, with a great sense of weirdness and detail and dialogue. Cameron Pierce lent me this specifically so I could read "Congress," the story about the deer-foot lamp -- and I loved it!

I guess I hoped the rest of the book would be equally surreal and unhinged, but instead the rest of the stories have convinced me that the weirdness of "Congress" is more a depiction of the heroine's mental illness than a step into impossible
...more
S.B.
A selection of things Joy Williams' characters say/do:

"I wasn't brought up that way."

"What were you born with, an ax in your hand? You're so destructive."

She pretended she was a virus, wandering without aim through someone's body.

"I began to wonder if it was worthwhile to undertake what I was doing at the moment. Pick a moment, any moment. I began to wonder. If I only had today and not tomorrow, would it be worthwhile to undertake what I was doing at the moment? I addressed myself to that very
...more
aidan w-m
Sep 14, 2014 aidan w-m added it
Shelves: 2014
i love when i can't tell why a short story is titled the way it is, like an intentional fog over the mysteries within. it's like the opposite of lish's students, all of whom i dig in their own right.
Abigail
Good, weird stories that don't feel the need to show growth, significance and epiphany in every detail. I want a deer-foot lamp that likes to read Moby-Dick.
Lauren
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 liv ...more
Stephanie
"She had been having a rough time of it and thought about suicide sometimes, but suicide was so corny and you had to be careful in this milieu which was eleventh grade because two of her classmates had committed suicide the year before and between them left twenty-four suicide notes and had become just a joke. They had left the notes everywhere and they were full of misspellings and pretensions. Theirs had been a false show. Then this year a girl had taken an overdose of Tylenol which of course ...more
Manzoid
The title story, about a teenage girl whose mother is dying, is fantastic. The "five stages of grief" turn into five hundred, the abyss yawns and waits behind every aggressively empty line that the mom utters. The atmosphere crackles with danger.

Four stars for that story alone.

The rest of the stories: meh. The loopy, dangerously-giddy, we-are-alone-in-a-universe-of-entropy-and-minor-madness tone gets old as more and more quirky characters parade before us and have random, often violent stuff hap
...more
emily
Human stories with structure, fleshed out delicatly, earnestly, and not too judgementally. Joy relates tragedies of varing sizes through perspectives passionate or apathetic. The stories assembled in this book fit together better than those in most short story books. The often abrupt endings complement the narratives, never feeling as though the author just got bored. Artful writing.
Michele
I guess this was one of those "everyone loves it but me" books. It came critically praised and highly recommended by smart people, but I really didn't find much resembling actual human beings in these stories.
Alyssa Roibal
recommended for the title story, "Charity," and "The Visiting Privilege"
Adrian Chen
I liked the title story a lot. "Charity" was good too.
Matthew Peck
This is the third of William's story collections that I've read, and it's my favorite. As in the career arc of Cormac McCarthy, her move to the American Southwest seems to have opened up new channels of imagination. Her earlier collections were all about fractured families and alienated young women. The protagonists still run along those lines in 'Honored Guest', but it's death that's creeping in every tale here, overtly or covertly. Williams reminds the reader of how fragile and absurd human ex ...more
Lucinda K
One chief question, in my opinion, will largely determine whether you like this book: How do you feel about dark humor? Love it? Then you'll love this collection in which the eloquent, concise Williams revels in sinister laughs. Her skill in this area is amazing. This was my first book of hers, and she's the first new dark humorist I've discovered in a long time who is really, really good at what she does. I'm happy to have found her and will explore more of her work. The stories feature charact ...more
Patrick Faller
Another collection that failed to pull me all the way through. The NY Times reviewer nailed the book's fatal flaw dead on, arguing that the collection's lack of landscape led to its groundless characters. Williams has a knack for ironicizing the detail, but when it comes to putting her skewed characters in some kind of context where their pretenatural abilities seems to emanate from some unknowable natural world, she falls well short of the successes in her first collection, which had such textu ...more
Spencer
Good book of stories. i liked the narrative distance a lot, scenes felt to me sort of like 'installments,' never felt like i was encouraged/allowed to be what some people would call 'immersed' in a particular scene. i also liked how a lot of the dialogue felt abrupt and w/ an odd/irreverent tone. people spoke philosophically sometimes, without much context/justification, in a way i found refreshing, interesting, and non-pretentious. reminded me of Poe.
Stephanie
I wanted to like this book. Each story started out with an interesting premise, but then the sense or cohesion of the story quickly devolved. Characters would say things that made no sense. I suppose you could interpret the stories as Kafka-esque, but they were even more bizarre and jolting than that.
Alys
Kind of like watching a car wreck in slow motion (if anyone remembers Art Chicago/Next 2008. Anyone?) Mostly annoying and with flashes of poignency, subtle schadenfreude, and kinda funny stuff. Not especially riveting, but for some reason I couldn't tear myself away. My sense is that this is one of those books written for Writers; maybe I would have gotten more out of it if I were still taking literature classes and wrangling 50-cent words after hours.
Nancy
Usually I love books like this (strange short story collections)but this one just didn't do it for me. I found the stories to be cruel-hearted and not connected enough to reality.
Patty
These short stories were a little hard to understand. As each ended, I questioned what it was all about.
I think that a story is just that....a story. A slice of life. Sometimes full of adventure and sometimes pretty boring! Williams characters are just people getting on with life. Usually, a short story is hard to get wrapped up in and in this case you probably wouldn't want to hang out with these characters for long anyhow.
Katie
Jan 21, 2009 Katie added it
Shelves: abandoned
These stories are amazing, especially the endings, but I made the mistake of reading them when I was staying alone in the house. Oof. They are tough. I had to take the book back to the library because it was due, but I plan to take it out and finish it, probably while sitting inside a protective circle of other humans. Moral: probably don't read books with black birds featured in the cover art if you are home alone.
Vincent Scarpa
Though it's not as impressive a collection as Escapes or Taking Care, I'm still a fan. The standout stories are nearly as good as those in the aforementioned collections, though there are a few stories worth skipping here. The best, in my reading of the collection, are "Anodyne," "Congress," "The Visiting Privilege," "Hammer," and that wonderful title story.
Tyler
Speaking table lamps made from the antlers of deer. Preoccupations with death and other existential crises played out through the beautifully eery speech of Joy Williams. These stories haunted me after I read them, they became a part of my dreams and nightmares. I still find, Taking Care to be my favorite of Williams' works, but Honored Guest is a brilliant collection.
Adam
Amazing short stories, most are about death, and all are about loss and loneliness, and all the ways that people deal with this emotions. This book has some of the mind blowing symbolism I've ever read, they are symbols you can't really figure out. These stories are should be depressing, but they make you happy to be alive, and to be aware that you are alive.
Pamela Baker
I did like some parts of the stories, but I found the characters to be so detached from either their lives or those around them that I wasn't able to feel attached to any of the characters. In their detachment, the characters lacked internal conflict or the kind of desire that makes you care more about their outcomes. At least, for me.
heather van de  mark
just couldn't get into it.
Lauren
Almost gave up on these, but then I read and loved 'Anodyne' which encouraged me to keep going. I think that was an easy stand alone favourite for me. I did like some of the others, but I found them quite unsettling and a bit too cold and odd, they left me feeling kind of uncertain. Some beautiful writing though.
Abby Sominski
The first story was the best one in the collection and even it wasn't very good, the depressing factor wasn't the problem, it was something else. Once again, judging a book by its cover (I really like the cover) has proven a poor way of judging if a book is worth reading. I will continue to do it though.
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500 Great Books B...: Honored Guest - Joy Williams - Garima 1 5 Jul 31, 2014 02:09PM  
Favorite Stories in this Collection 4 5 Dec 13, 2013 06:04PM  
  • Like Life
  • The Collected Stories
  • The Collected Stories
  • Black Tickets: Stories
  • A Relative Stranger: Stories
  • Distortions
  • The Ice at the Bottom of the World: Stories
  • The Selected Stories
  • The Dead Fish Museum: Stories
  • The Collected Short Stories
  • The Collected Stories
  • The Collected Stories
  • We Others: New and Selected Stories
  • I Looked Alive: Stories
  • What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us
  • A Stranger in This World: Stories
  • The Plains
  • Last Words from Montmartre
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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...
The Quick and the Dead Taking Care Breaking and Entering Escapes State of Grace

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