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Honored Guest

3.96  ·  Rating Details  ·  627 Ratings  ·  68 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, 213 pages
Published November 8th 2005 by Vintage (first published 2004)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,187)
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"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 excha
Mar 31, 2012 Mariel rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 29, 2013 Adam rated it it was amazing
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.
Oct 23, 2015 Josh rated it liked it
Recommended to Josh by: Jonathan
Shelves: 2015, fiction
(3.5) Joy is not the first thing you think of when you read one of Joy Williams’s short stories, but it’s not quite the opposite. Neither joyful or morbid, the stories in this volume are mostly about circumstances in life; each wave of nausea coming in, the torrent of neurasthenia and a melancholic nuisance the mind provides; how our emotions provide comfort against our fears, but also have the tendency to implode on themselves when we need that barrier, that wall of safety at the most opportune ...more
Aug 14, 2011 Sarah rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
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
Jul 26, 2010 Mykle rated it liked it
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
Jul 05, 2007 Stephanie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"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
Jul 20, 2009 Manzoid rated it really liked it
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
May 01, 2015 Chaserrrr rated it really liked it
Littered with dogs and perfumed with death, this is a collection of short stories like no other. Sometimes surreal, sometimes perplexing, never predictable. This is my first taste of Joy and I can't wait for more.
Mar 30, 2008 Abigail rated it liked it
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.
Lucinda K
Nov 17, 2013 Lucinda K rated it really liked it
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
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
Patrick Faller
Aug 09, 2011 Patrick Faller rated it it was ok
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
Dec 28, 2014 Tiara rated it liked it
I am still trying to understand what I feel about this book. This is my first experience with Joy Williams though she has been recommended to me time and time again by professors, friends, strangers, etc. Now that I have experienced a full collection from her, I want more...if only to help me articulate whether I love her or can't stand her.

What I learned is that Williams is a great writer! However, I don't always understand/appreciate the way that she creates dialogue and though her characters
Lucas Miller
Jul 19, 2015 Lucas Miller rated it it was amazing
I'm not sure when I started scanning the shelves of used bookstores for Joy Williams. This might be another product of a year or so of close reading of Tao Lin's old blog in 2005-2006. A strange episode in my literary life. I remember becoming obsessed with the K-Mart Realists. I had a group of friends the first year of college who would pass around Amy Hempel's collected stories talking about it in hushed tones. I read Anne Beattie's Chilly Scenes of Winter. I discovered Lorrie Moore. I had pre ...more
Feb 08, 2010 emily rated it it was amazing
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.
I can tell these short stories are well-written - their opaque literariness is a dead giveaway. I found the first pair especially interesting. In the titular story, a dying single mother and her teenage daughter are unable to communicate meaningfully, while in "Congress," which was beautifully bizarre, a woman's most meaningful relationship ends up being with a lamp she becomes emotionally attached to. But as I moved through the collection, I was increasingly alienated. So much "wait, what?", su ...more
Jun 12, 2011 Michele rated it it was ok
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
Jul 11, 2013 Alyssa Roibal rated it it was amazing
recommended for the title story, "Charity," and "The Visiting Privilege"
Adrian Chen
Mar 08, 2009 Adrian Chen rated it it was amazing
I liked the title story a lot. "Charity" was good too.
Matthew Peck
Jan 31, 2014 Matthew Peck rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 09, 2014 Spencer rated it it was amazing
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.
Nov 19, 2014 Stephanie rated it did not like it
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.
Karen Thomson
Jan 24, 2016 Karen Thomson rated it really liked it
Quicky and strange - each story made me shake my head with disbelief. Some made me feel somewhat unsettled, some just made me laugh with the ridiculousness of them. I agree with the reviewer who compared them to a David Lynch movie.
Trever Polak
Joy Williams is great. I've read that that this collection isn't her best, which means I'll probably like her other stuff more, which would be pretty great. Her stories are oblique as hell, like George Saunders, but they manage to show a certain American mood of quiet disillusionment that never quite manifests (even when the stories are set abroad). "Congress" was strange but funny, "The Visiting Privilege" was intriguing, and the title story was great too.
Jul 22, 2011 Alys rated it liked it
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.
Jun 01, 2010 Patty rated it it was ok
Shelves: readin10
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.
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.
Kara Thornton
Dec 26, 2015 Kara Thornton rated it it was ok
A struggle to finish. Obtuse, rambling and just plain boring.
Vincent Scarpa
Feb 27, 2013 Vincent Scarpa rated it really liked it
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.
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500 Great Books B...: Honored Guest - Joy Williams - Garima 1 6 Jul 31, 2014 02:09PM  
Favorite Stories in this Collection 4 6 Dec 13, 2013 06:04PM  
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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...

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