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.
In these tales, Williams, an incomparable novelist and short story and essay writer, gives us characters who have good lives until they don’t -- people who revel in fortunate experiences until fortune gets tired of them, who believe they’re embracing life fully until they realize they’ve missed the mark ... In wonderful, stark relief, Williams gives us a glimpse into this pliability of the human heart, its marvelous ability to withstand adversity and accommodate whatever comes next.
...characters float through life as if in a post-traumatic daze, talking past one another (if at all), sliding into loneliness or dementia. To this sensibility is fixed a terse, dread-filled writing style whose pulse it is probably safer not to quicken ... The intersection of spiritual with actual poverty was one that Flannery O'Connor, Williams's most obvious predecessor, knew something about. Williams, however, has taken us further toward total perdition. Now even the most modest possibilities of solace in a God-forsaken universe are missing ... There is barely any landscape in these stories; they seem informed by the kind of wide open American spaces that, while inspiring awe in the short run, bring on delirium over time ... Here, in the collection's finest story, Janice holds the sticky hand of one of the children after buying her a butterscotch sundae. The gesture is minuscule, but Williams has left us so starved for affection that it seems momentous.
Honored Guest seems versatile, powerful, reliable, and accommodating to me. If I am severely depressed I can read it and feel calmer, more accepting, and better able to utilize such depression-reducing skills as detachment, irony/sarcasm, and relativism. If I am happy I can read it and feel 'delight,' an increase in the non-delusional aspects of my happiness, and that I am glad I exist and can interact with certain other humans. If I am bored I can open the book randomly and study whatever sentence or scene to see how they have been constructed, find 'little jokes' or 'other things' I didn’t notice before, or read it slowly in a self-conscious manner for purposes of perceiving how exactly my emotions are being affected by certain line breaks or adverbs.