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The Quick & the Dead

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  1,084 Ratings  ·  147 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
Hardcover, 308 pages
Published 2001 by Harvill Press (first published 2000)
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Feb 01, 2012 Mariel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 04, 2017 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: u-s-lit
Those of you who liked Joy Williams' short stories (see, eg., The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories) should also like this novel. It's almost as if there are running stories spliced together here. And I mean that in a good way. There are familiar themes, settings, vignettes: an old age home, plenty of dogs, marriages crumbling or already crumbled, precocious children. Read this and you will recognize that we are all a little off. I do not think that Joy Williams would find me inappr ...more
Nate D
Jan 28, 2015 Nate D rated it really liked it  ·  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
MJ Nicholls
Apr 30, 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
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
Jun 20, 2012 Sean rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016

Having previously read and very much enjoyed some of Joy Williams’s short fiction, I’d been looking forward to reading this novel for a number of years. I’m not sure why it took me this long to reach for it (well, okay, books just tend to get buried in tbr lists). The central characters are a trio of teenage girls (Alice, Annabel, and Corvus), all three of them motherless and two of them parentless altogether. They are all portrayed in a somewhat one-dimensional way, each of them uniquely distan
Jun 27, 2008 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 09, 2007 Edan rated it really liked it  ·  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
Jun 12, 2015 Bryant rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
It's so rare for me to find a singular work of literature, something that stands outside the realm of influence or structure, that stakes no claim in tradition or cannon, but exists wholly of itself. I'm always looking for that book, and I am happy to say The Quick and the Dead is it. I'm struggling here, because there is no way to describe a work whose truth transcends what language can achieve. I can't say how important this book is to me, because the beautiful and vital thing about a great bo ...more
Ryan Schumacher
Feb 20, 2011 Ryan Schumacher rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 28, 2009 helen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 04, 2013 Kathrina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-fiction
A fistful of Arizona sand sifting through your white-knuckled grip,
big-gritted dust, the same that covers the empty, blazing acres around you,
some cling to your sweaty palm,
and up close, they sparkle in the murderous sun,
telling stories of the museum-quality diamonds they once thought they were.
You're six miles from home.
You will hear their stories the whole way home.
If you're wise you won't listen,
you'll rub the sand through your hair,
pack a ziploc with a few measly grains,
share it wi
Jan 02, 2009 Laura rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best novels ever!
Sep 08, 2015 Joseph rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has some heart and a certain vague purity but there's something off in the tone and something way off in its impact. This book is all surface. Everything is a sick joke. No search for tragedy or drama. The products of evil are everywhere but it exists in a state of grace. It's like it's nobody's fault. Truly a fake or tame political diatribe if there ever was one.

Williams' main theme is the poisoning of the land, and minds, well, something. Maybe it's just an Indian curse, sin
Adam Dalva
Mar 26, 2016 Adam Dalva rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oh this is really good, like Lorrie Moore with a satanic streak or Ferrante if she'd been raised in an American desert. The story is deceptively simple - basically a summer novel about 3 girls who've each suffered loss - and the structure is notable. Each chapter is basically its own brief vignette, and Williams doesn't hesitate to jump into a supporting player's brain mid-sentence or have whole chapters with characters we'll never see again. As a result, this is a classic novel of accumulation: ...more
Apr 14, 2015 Chaserrrr rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 were 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.
Oct 23, 2013 Jonathan rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jonathan by: Mariel
Good, but I prefer her short stories I think...
Jessica Darling
3.5. A weird one.
Apr 25, 2012 Lee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 15, 2014 Sub_zero rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reto-2014

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
May 03, 2012 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jan 11, 2015 Rachel rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: q, female-author, 2015
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
Tim Storm
Aug 16, 2011 Tim Storm rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
3 and 1/2 stars, really, and this is just a review of my feelings after reading the book. There is no one like Joy Williams. 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. Quick and the Dead is saved by some truly original, beautiful, and shocking moments. The writing is, of course, stunning. Williams is brilliant. She seems to know so much and to see into the world, d ...more
Aug 21, 2007 Rupert rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Jun 01, 2016 Amy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book started out interesting and I was intrigued. The further I read, however, the less connected I felt to the characters and their story lines. I'm not sure why. I liked the characters, but at some point they trailed off into people I could not understand, and seemed flat, with no growth at all. I generally like books told from different points of view, and with different characters personalities. Not sure what happened here.
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.
Aug 15, 2011 Gregory rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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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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“There was something shameful about surviving sorrow. You were corrupted. She was corrupted. She was no good anymore. She was inauthentic, apocryphal. She wanted to be a seeker and to travel further and further. But after sorrow, such traveling is not a climbing but a sinking to a depth leached of light at which you are unfit to endure. And yet you endure there.” 2 likes
“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
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