Friday, July 22, 2016
Quirkiness gone awry in a joy Williams story
Joy Williams takes quirkiness to a new extreme in her story in current New Yorker, "Stuff." It's about a 60+ man who in the first scene receives a diagnosis of fatal lung cancer - a scene that Williams develops as a ghastly dark comic vignette: the doc isn't his familiar physician but a sub,at first they mistake him for a much older patient but after a moment of his thinking oh they gave me the wrong Guy's diagnosis the doc checks and says nope sorry that's your prognosis too. From there the story descends deeper into bathos - a conflict w a woman who is his rival columnist at the local weekly, a visit to his 90+ mother in the nursing home - and each of these scenes and a few others are so deliberately off key - the mother completely unsympathetic to the son,metals to him about how he had difficulty making friends in youth. We actually know v little about him - married? Children? Occupation? - and who really cares Bcz he's not a real "person" in any event. The characters don't talk to one another or even to us. They are props set up to offer the wry quips of the writer. Mourn tolerance for this kind of thing depends on how much you expect fiction to reflect reality as opposed to creating a new reality. This is a story about the writer's writing and tho it's darkly amusing at times nothing in it will seem likely or familiar, which may be its very point - or its downfall.