The Quick & the Dead
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

The Quick & the Dead

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  598 ratings  ·  99 reviews
Alice, Corvus and Annabel, each a motherless child, form an unlikely friendship. Thrown together one summer, they make their way through an air-conditioned landscape electric with signs and portents and peopled by restless, disengaged adults.

Annabel's father lusts after Donald, his handsome gardener, whil enduring nightly visitations from his dead wife; a young stroke vict...more
Hardcover, 308 pages
Published 2001 by Harvill Press (first published 2000)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,574)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Dec 26, 2013 Mariel rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Madam Tussaud and Hitler's love child
Recommended to Mariel by: Graham
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
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
MJ Nicholls
May 06, 2012 MJ Nicholls marked it as dropped
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
Aidan Watson-Morris
another novel that makes the question of a favorite, whenever popped, harder & harder.
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  ·  review of another edition
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...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
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
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...more
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...more
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...more
Aug 21, 2007 Rupert rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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 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
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...more
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...more
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
Aug 11, 2012 Catherine marked it as abandoned  ·  review of another edition
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...more
Frances Dinger
This book is both compact and sprawling, a kind of novel in stories before that was a hip term. It's a ghost story, environmental treatise, exploration of teen girl-hood, and chronicle of grief that clocks in at just over 300 pages. This is much more dense than Williams' other work. I look forward to revisiting it.

Some favorite parts:
-"You need a telephone to communicate with 911. You need an emergency as well."
"This is an emergency, this place," the child said.
"The operator will wear you out wi...more
Aaron Miller
This is the third novel I've read by Joy Williams in the last few weeks, and I have enjoyed all of them. Her writing is very different in each one. There is a lot about death in this book--how people perceive it, how people prepare for it, and how people react to it. It is strange and sad and very funny. I rarely laugh while reading, but it happened four or five times while I was reading this.

It seems like things happen in this book that are as bizarre and unexpected as things that happen in th...more
A novella with a few short stories shuffled in. More mood than narrative.
Three stars for the vocabulary lesson this book gave me; Ms. Williams made excellent use of obscure words not often seen in modern literature or otherwise. They fit seamlessly into the tone and style of the book, which was written so it could not be anything other than a book - that is, the characters spoke like characters in a novel, and the things that happened would only happen on a page.
Overall, it was unique and quirky, but I will probably not be reading it again. The beginning pulled me i...more
Written in 2005:
"Nothing to do with the movie of the same name, this novel touches on the stories of three adolescent girls in the Southwest. This is one of those novels that jumps around from character to character, describing neighboring events that never quite overlap. Unfortunately this method prevents any of the characters from becoming detailed or complete enough to take form. There are a few good scenes and a few good lines, including some nice references to the surrounding desert, but ov...more
Kate Sweeney
Dec 26, 2007 Kate Sweeney rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Jon, Mamabeth, Janie, Jim
From page one:

"She did not find the children at all interesting. They cried frequently, indulged themselves in dull, interminable narratives, were sentimental and cruel, and when frustrated would bite...She assisted them with special projects for school. It was never too early for investigative reporting. They should not be dissuaded by their teacher's discomfort; to discomfort teachers was one's duty. They were not too young to be informed about the evils of farm subsidies, monoculture, and ove...more
Jul 19, 2007 rebekah rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: not sure, hipsters maybe?
Well it took me a long time to read the book, it was one of those books where I knew I should really like but I didn't and yet... there was some really great writing going on and the imagery crept stealthily into my brain. sometimes I have a monkey up there, limping around. I started to get into the book as it ended. So from a literary standpoint I think I needed to give it more four or five stars but personally, I just wasn't that into it but I bet A LOT of people would really like it. Just not...more
Carrie Lorig
death drone. desert hum. prose like a georgia o'keefe. beautiful. so beautiful. full of animal skulls, cacti, vaginas. it'll send you home with black eyes and you'll be sure you deserved them. you human you.

i'm usually a reader who says, who needs water when there's prose? but the plot's rough. character's pop in and out like deer along a highway at night. it's fine, but it's jarring, and it doesn't give you much time to care properly about what happens to them.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 52 53 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Bear and His Daughter
  • An Unfinished Season
  • All Souls
  • Mr. Ives' Christmas
  • Paradise
  • Whites
  • Persian Nights
  • Unlocking the Air and Other Stories
  • Mean Spirit
  • Love in Infant Monkeys
  • Jernigan
  • Servants of the Map
  • What I Lived For
  • American Woman
  • Shakespeare's Kitchen
  • At Weddings and Wakes
  • John Henry Days
  • Evidence of Things Unseen
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

Share This Book

“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
More quotes…