The Human Transfigured
Writing on Ernest Hemingway, Joy Williams says, "he referred to this time, the decade of the '30s, as his "belle epoque," for there was not only the happy scouring of the Gulf Stream, but also the hunting in Wyoming for elk and antelope (for lighter fare he shot prairie dogs from a moving car) and the safari in Africa, where lions, leopards, cheetahs, and oryx could be collected, though it rankled him when others killed bigger animals than he did, or those with darker manes, bigger racks, or, in the case of rhinos, larger horns." (Book Forum) In an Atlantic interview, Williams reckons: "I used to rather like the word 'empathy.' Now I feel it's not nearly strong enough. Nor is sympathy hard enough. We need a radical shift in consciousness, a more generous conception of the whole, which is far more inclusive than we prefer to believe. I wrote a little piece about trophy hunters. The magazine that was supposed to take it did not. I maintained in the piece that trophy hunters are psychopaths. This is a dangerous sentiment, I guess, and one not universally accepted."
Hemingway was clearly by Williams' reckoning a psychopath, someone so far from the empathic that whatever contribution he may have made to literature, wasn't very useful to humanity. Yet Williams seems to believe the literature we now need to create must go further than the sympathetic and even the empathetic, reckoning that our human perspective on the world is far too limited. Dan Kois after interviewing Williams at length for the New York Times read an unpublished article Williams had given him, where "the essay begins as a lament for contemporary language's inability to cope with the grandeur and tragedy of the natural world. But soon its scope expands to sound the alarm for literature itself, doggedly focused, as Saul Bellow wrote, on 'the human family as it is.' 'Could this obsessional looking at the human bring about the death of literature?' Williams asks."
In such a prospective aesthetic, animals are no longer secondary to the human family as it is but part of that very family. While in Hemingway's work like 'Snows of Kilimanjaro' and The Sun Also Rises the lions and bulls represent a function, rather as a mountain for a mountaineer or the channel for a swimmer, a means by which to test one's masculinity against, Williams' work consistently asks instead what we test our humanity against. It makes sense that she would speak highly of a writer such as J M Coetzee, who has so often been interested in The Lives of Animals and the limits of our empathy, over Hemingway. While Hemingway shows human weakness against an animal's strength unless one can overcome the beast, Coetzee is a great writer of showing human fragility that cannot be resolved by defeating the animal world but by acknowledging our reckoning with it. Whether it is Elizabeth Costello or Disgrace, Coetzee shows that an animal's weakness is also our own. We don't kill it and find our authority; we befriend it and find our vulnerability. Death and dogs as various critics have noticed are frequently evident in Williams' work but rather than focusing on the presence of animals what interest us is the vulnerability itself. Rather than asking how do we assert ourselves in a world full of others, Williams often finds a way of enquiring into the surprise that we aren't falling apart in the face of this difficult and constant reality.
How she does this varies from story to story but to start off we can think of 'Taking Care', a tale about a preacher whose wife is ill with cancer and whose daughter has escaped the States and left him with her six month child and her dog. "She is going to Mexico, where soon, in the mountains, she will have a nervous breakdown. Jones does not know this, but his daughter has seen it in the stars and is going to meet it." Has the story offered a moment of tragic prolepsis, the briefest of flash-forwards, or is it an ironic comment on the stupidity of believing in astrology? It seems to us that if Williams were to fall into the invulnerable it would be ironic; if she seeks the further reaches of empathy it is closer to the tragic. But it's as if as a writer she must acknowledge the reality of the situation while as a being the hopeless selfishness of a character who will remain peripheral. The daughter is off finding herself but sheds responsibility in doing so while lumbering her father with still more obligations when her mother is very ill. How can we not just see her self-absorption? When the father receives a letter from her she makes no mention of her mother nor of her daughter, "which makes Jones feel peculiar." It doesn't make him enraged, doesn't make him see he has a daughter who only thinks of herself, but seems to see instead his daughter's fragility that is at one with the fragile situation he finds himself in. How to tell the story acknowledging that selfishness but more importantly restoring a broader vulnerability? The empathic centre of the story is the preacher Jones who "has been in love all his life", someone who "is like an animal in a traveling show who, through some aberration, wears a vital organ outside his skin, awkward and unfortunate, something that shouldn't be seen, certainly something that shouldn't be watched working."
But it is chiefly in the story's form that Williams offers the further reaches of empathy that she says fiction should move towards. Written in the third person present tense (like many of Coetzee's novels), it hints at the future but cannot know it. The daughter will have a nervous breakdown; his wife will be coming home from the hospital in a few days. It also suggests events elsewhere that fall somewhere between narrative omniscience and simple consideration. When the narrator says, "in Mexico, his daughter wanders disinterestedly through a jewelry shop where she picks up a small silver egg" it is an odd moment because the story hasn't given us access to her life except through the prism of her father's observations. Earlier in the piece, we hear that "when he saw his daughter only a few weeks ago, she was thin and nervous. She had plucked out almost all her eyebrows with her fingers from this nervousness. And her lashes. The lids of her eyes were swollen and white...her fingernails were crudely bitten." Yet when we're informed that she is wandering around Mexico, whose perspective is this if it isn't her father's? Yet perhaps this is where co-feeling often resides; not in the narrowness of observation but in the shattering of point of view. We know that the father is a loving and caring man, but can we assume the narrator happens to be considerate as well? The potential irony of a dad left with a daughter and dog after the daughter goes off to discover herself in Mexico is instead a story that asks us to have a little faith, to believe as the preacher believes in a being beyond the prejudicial and the readily moral. As the story ends with the wife returning home the narrator concludes with the words, "together they enter the shining rooms." These are rooms that have been kept clean and tidy as Jones has restricted himself from entering rooms he'd likely mess up, but there is also of course in the conclusion a hint of the transcendent, the anagogical level that she shares with a writer in almost every way very different from Williams, Flannery O'Connor. Williams may list the anagogical as one of her eight essential aspects for a short story in an interview with Lincoln Michel in Vice, but it is O'Connor who writes at length about the term in Mystery and Manners, saying "the action or gesture I'm talking about would have to be on the anagogical level, that is the level which has to do with the Divine Life and our participation in it." Williams' father was a preacher like the central character in 'Taking Care', but we needn't assume that her work should be read religiously if that were the case why the need for a new form in literature; wouldn't the bible suffice? This doesn't mean Williams isn't interested in God and faith, evident in a recent story collection called Ninety-Nine Stories of God. Yet as Michel says "despite its title [it] is not a religious bookat least not in any traditional sense...When God does appear, he is more often than not portrayed as a bumbling entity that has forgotten why exactly he did the whole creation business in the first place." (Vice)
What appears to interest Williams far more is the fragility of others that demands not so much sensitivity, nor of course pity, but comprehension. Comprehension can sound from a certain perspective like a weak word: we comprehend an argument made, or how something is put together. It can seem a much weaker word than understanding which has far more connotations of care and consideration. But to be understanding towards someone's predicament has an aspect of pity, or at least distance we offer it to others as a means by which to remain human within ourselves, but do we comprehend it? To understand this we can think of a moment in the short story 'White' and also a Williams essay on the mother of one of the Colombine killers in 'Book Forum'. In 'White', a couple have no children: "twice, Joan gave birth to a baby but both times the baby died before he was six months old." It seems there is a single deviant gene in husband Bliss and wife Joan, but when a doctor informed Bliss at the hospital the deaths were not so mysterious at all Bliss strikes him twice and the doctor falls to the ground. In the essay 'Do We Really Need to Talk About Dylan', Williams discusses the mother of one of the boys, Sue Klebold and how she has coped with the incident and the loss of her son. Williams reckons "Sue, we don't find you responsible for the massacre at Columbine High School. But we don't want to hear any more about your survival mechanisms, or your work on behalf of "brain health," or your gastrointestinal issues ("My digestive system has always been my Achilles' heel"), or the feeling you had on the day Dylan was born that a big dark bird of prey was passing overhead (we find that a bit of a stretch, actually)." From the position of understanding, Bliss and Williams fail. Bliss should have seen that the doctor was just doing his job and explaining what had happened, and Sue Klebold is determined to show what it feels like to be a grieving mother who doesn't only lose her child but also the respect of those around her as she is turns into a pariah. Williams however has no interest in understanding Klebold's problems just as Bliss has no time for a doctor who has so little room for him that he explains, to a grieving dad, information as if he were speaking to a classroom of medics. Williams and Bliss don't want to understand the doctor and Sue, they want the doctor and Sue to comprehend their own limited comprehension.
Yet throughout Williams fiction, there is this battle between understanding and comprehension as we are couching it. Frequently the surprises we find in her work have nothing do with developments of the plot, surprises in the narration, but in the revelatory detail that doesn't go anywhere but permeates the story nevertheless. In 'The Yard Boy', "Dakota is into heroin and intangible property." "The odd thing was that she has never been in love with an animal. She had just skipped that cross-species eroticism and gone right beyond it to altered parts." ('Congress') "She did not tell Helen that the dog had begun to growl at her. It was a secret growl, he never did it in front of anyone else." ('Honored Guest') "My mother began going to gun classes in February. She quit the Yoga." ('Anodyne') "Yvette arrived, she had fine features and large eyes, and she looked anxious, and her hair was always damp 'from visions and insomnia.'" ('Summer') It isn't that Williams never explains anything, it is more that she wonders whether such explanations are the best way of understanding how people are in the world. Other species appear to exist without explanation and yet we can exist alongside them; can we not do the same with our fellow human?
It's as if Williams' problem with Hemingway contained within it a troubling comprehension of her own. Hemingway had gone further than most in rejecting psychological explanations for the behavioural specifics. When Hemingway says the writer "sometimes...seems to have unexplained knowledge which could come from forgotten racial or family experience. Who teaches the homing pigeon to fly as he does; where does a fighting bull get his bravery, or a hunting dog his nose?", Hemingway is talking about what he knows as a writer and what he can use to generate fiction. But we can also see in it a behavioural instinct that he also registers in his characters and it is this instinct which can bypass psychology: an instinct Hemingway suggested is shared by humans and other animals. However, while Hemingway in Williams' eyes nevertheless insisted at the same time on showing the enormous gap between man and beast in his constant need to test his masculinity against their destruction, Williams is interested too in the behavioural approach to humans while also seeing humans as animals and animals as our companions more than our enemies. When Williams herself had to remove an animal's life it was a sorrowful event. "In 1997, she was mauled by one of her shepherds, a 9-year-old male named Hawk; the incident is the subject of a hair-raising, heartbreaking essay in ''Ill Nature,' which is mostly about Williams's misery at having to put the dog down after the attack." (New York Times)
Many of her stories contain the presence of dogs 'Taking Care', 'Shepherd', 'Preparation for a Collie', 'The Little Winter', 'The Blue Men', 'Congress' and 'Substance' doesn't come close to exhausting the list and sometimes they have a minor part in the tale and on other occasions (evident in the very titles like 'Shepherd' and 'Preparation for a Collie') a major one. They are very much contained in the "life as it is" even if Williams doesn't at all sentimentalise their presence or anthropomorphise their existence. They are there. In 'The Last Generation', the central character Tommy and his brother's ex-girlfriend Audrey are chatting and she talks about Emily Bronte's dog Keeper. One evening, after saying if she found the dog on the clean white sheets again, she would beat him, she then did exactly that, nursing him afterwards back to health. Tommy wonders if Bronte later apologised to the dog. "Absolutely not" Audrey says."Did Keeper forgive her?", Tommy asks, and Audrey replies "dogs don't think like that." How they do think we may not know, but Tommy has fallen into assuming dogs are like humans and Audrey insists they are not we cannot apply our psychology to animals; all we will do is read our own sentimentality and an anthropomorphism into their lives. In the anecdote about Bronte, Audrey seems to be making clear that Emily didn't know what Keeper was thinking, she just knew what needed to be done to protect the white sheets. In turn, once that lesson had been learnt by Keeper there wouldn't be any need to punish him further but instead restore him to full health. From a sentimental point of view, Bronte has been horribly cruel, and from an anthropomorphic one we might wonder as Tommy does whether Keeper can forgive her, but this is to fall back into obvious representation, to read the pulse of our humanity against a world that is close to ours but also in some way inexplicable.
From such a position Hemingway can seem an ally rather than an enemy, someone who wouldn't only have assumed that we don't have access to the minds of animals but was always suspicious about getting into the minds of humans too. Hemingway's "is a style in which the body talks rather than the mind," Cyril Connolly says, "one admirable for rendering emotions: love, fear, joy of battle, despair, sexual appetite, but impoverished for intellectual purposes." ('Enemies of Promise') When Audrey says that she had a dog after Tommy says he has never had a dog she adds that after the golden retriever died she wanted to bury her under the window, and instead she was told "the best place to bury a dog is in your heart." Any hint of emotion and expression ("She was devoted, expectant and yet resigned. Do you see what I mean? But I liked her a lot.") is contained by the reality that life can be very harsh indeed, and not only for animals. The friendship between Audrey and Tommy ends when Audrey disappears and all we hear about it is when his father says "she made her bed, as they say, now she's got to lie in it." We might assume she has been locked up for thieving (we've earlier been informed she steals) but what matters is that Tommy's friend has gone. Earlier in the story, Audrey talks about a very tall tree that is in the middle of the birds' migration path and that thousands of birds from numerous species have smacked into it. We don't know exactly what has happened to Audrey but will she migrate or hit a tree we might wonder, seeing Williams less interested in symbolism than equivalence: that Audrey is like a bird not as easy metaphor but as complex co-existence.
From this angle, it makes sense that the modernist she admires isn't Hemingway but Kafka. Writing on Kafka in the New York Times she says, "he felt he was a citizen of another world, a white desert. It could certainly be argued that what he called his "animal stories" "A Report to an Academy," "The Burrow," "Investigations of a Dog" weren't about humans at all." If one way of escaping the sentimental and the anthropomorphic is Hemingwayesque taciturnity, another and rather different approach is the Kafkan: one where the human is absorbed into the animal kingdom partly through his or her alienation from the human one. Kirkus Review, commenting briefly on Williams' collection Escapes, reckoned: "random cosmic thoughts and a sense of an overwhelming present complete Williams' assault on reality, as most people understand it. Those on her wavelength will relish these goofy tales." But while Kafka might pass for the 'goofy' elaborated to the point of genius, Williams remains mainly a realist closer to Hemingway than Kafka stylistically while much closer to Kafka in sensibility. Hemingway would appear to have nothing to offer when it comes to a new literature that goes far beyond the human family, while Kafka's oeuvre could be usefully understood as precisely an examination of this problem. When Williams says "he was a subject in the playful "Bestiary of Modern Literature," published in 1922, and was described thus: "the Kafka is a very rare magnificent moon-blue mouse that does not eat meat but feeds on herbs. It is a fascinating sight because it has human eyes" (New York Times) we see her amusingly pointing up the dissolution between human and animal. Stories like 'Metamorphosis', 'Josephine, The Mouse Singer' and 'Investigations of a Dog' aren't just surrealist accounts of transformation and defamiliarization, they are liminal tales of what it may just feel like to be an insect, a mouse, or a dog from a position that is animal-like but not quite animal. Kafka doesn't pretend to know what it happens to be to be an animal but that doesn't mean this inevitable distance makes them alien to us and thus suitable to be put on a dish, placed in the oven, in a cage or shot to pieces for pleasure. Williams, a vegetarian and animal rights activist ,who wrote an important article on hunting for Esquire ('The Killing Game'), can see through the hypocrisy that allows us to be adorable to our pets and sentimental in our viewing habits while thinking little of incarcerating animals in zoos and leaving them as bones on our plate. One needn't be militant about this and Williams wouldn't probably be a better writer if she happened to be, but she seems to understand that our relationship with animals has been, to put it mildly, not without contradictions. Nobody understood the absurdity of these contradictions better than Kafka, and while Williams owes little to the haunted modernist when it comes to the prose and the imagination, the question of the further reaches of co-feeling that Hemingway made inexplicable Williams constantly circumnavigates but never ignores.
Her approach is that life is taking place constantly but to know the reasons for it needn't be ascertained to understand that it happens to be doing so. In brilliant stories like 'The Lover' and 'Summer', Williams permeates the takes with feeling without quite allowing us into the minds of those who are having them. In 'The Lover', she opens with almost provocative distance: "the girl is twenty-five. It has not been very long since her divorce but she cannot remember the man who used to be her husband. He was probably nice. She will tell her child this, at any rate. We are informed the girl does not sleep well, and that her ex-husband said to her after she had given birth, still in the hospital, "now you are going to have to learn how to love something you wicked woman." She finds it hard to believe he said such a thing and so might we Williams gives no further context. Even though the story is viewed from her perspective, she remains somehow somnambulant in her own life, her memory weak and her body insubstantial. "Her face is thin with the thinness of a failed lover." But she wants to be in love and in time this happens when she meets someone at a dinner party and they become a couple. None of the characters are given names: the child will remain the child (as so often in Williams' fiction), the girl, the girl, and the lover, the lover. Yet when he returns after time away for one last visit we can feel her pain without understanding her character. "He wearies her really. Her moods and palpitations. The girl's face is pale. Death is not so far, she thinks. It is easily arrived at. Love is further than death. She kisses him." ('The Lover') She is obviously recklessly besotted by this man but Williams' prose is at one remove, acknowledging the pain without expressing, without finding, a hyperbolic style to match the feeling. The sentences are often paratactic, with no clauses and no strong verbs. "The girl becomes a lover to a man she met at a dinner party. He calls her up in the morning. He drives over to her apartment."
It's as if Williams wonders how much feeling she can convey without extracting it through the excitability of the prose. It shows her suspicion towards false empathy consistent with her interest in animal life, determined to remove the exaggerated emotion that is utilised towards the animal in much art and entertainment. Pigs are cute things on the page and screen but carved up into various culinary body parts in our lives: pork, bacon and ham. Williams appears to ask what is the proper weight of a life is and how best do we find the language with which to convey that balance between consideration and scepticism, between the compassionate and the selfish. The point isn't to judge precisely what is morally right or wrong what makes a good person or a bad one. (Is this lover 'bad'; is the girl 'stupid'?) It is more to find the language which can acknowledge our need to exist both for ourselves and for others and not pretend we are better than we are or that we comprehend more than we do. Let us not pretend we feel more than we do or know more than we can. Running through the story is a radio show the girl listens to, Action Line. On it is The Answer Man who has the answer for everything, at least statistical and calculative. "In answer to your question, the difference between rising every morning at six or eight in the course of forty years amounts to twenty-nine thousand two hundred and twenty hours or three years, two hundred twenty-one days and sixteen hours, which are equal to eight hours a day for ten years." At the end of the story after the lover no longer comes round, she is listening again to the Answer Man. "He is never at a loss" the girl whispers to her daughter. A woman says that her husband only gets excited if he believes some part of his body is missing. Yes, the answer man replies as the woman adds, "a finger or an eye or a leg. I have to pretend it's not there." "Yes" the answer man replies once again as the story ends.
What answer can he provide to such an enquiry? Williams' answer would be the story in front of us which from one perspective is no answer at all and from another happens to be a very precise one. She notes that "the conundrum of literature is that it is not supposed to say anything. Often a reader can enjoy a story or novel simply because he can admire the writer's skill in getting out of it." But she also adds, "much of a writer's work is to unexpress the expressible as well as the opposite" (Book Slut) If there is the knowledgable that can be explained, evident in the Answer Man, there is also the expressive that can be expressed. The Answer Man need have nothing to say if the answer demands a subjective rather than an objective response but it is as though what is asked, and what can be offered, go beyond the categories of objective knowledge and subjective feeling. The woman asks the Answer Man a question that gets trapped between the two. Only her husband can possibly answer the question and perhaps he would be unable to do so, but there is something quietly epistemologically frightening about the Answer Man's inability to provide a comment beyond the repeated yes. By the end of the story, one feels that the central character cannot easily express herself and the Answer Man clearly doesn't have all the answers when other people's feelings become the arena of enquiry. However, this is the very space of fiction, even if most of the time the expressive is expressed and the unexpressed needn't trouble the work. Yet when Williams talks about a new kind of fiction while she discusses the importance of animals as creatures that we may unable to understand but that we nevertheless need to find a fictional form in which such understanding can at least be broached, the unexpressed starts to become manifest. If we've suggested that too often animals have been understood sentimentally and anthropomorphically, perhaps a paradoxical way of understanding animals more is to no longer pretend we so readily understand the human. Rather than making the animal explicable what about making humans a bit more inexplicable and then allow for shafts of insight and possibility from that place?
Both 'Taking Care' and 'The Lover' are very fine examples of this attempt, but we can also think of 'Summer' too, where a couple, Constance and Ben stay at their friend Steven's place one summer. They are with their daughters from previous marriages and everyone spends their time not with Steven, who writes each day till five, but with the various women who come to visit him: over five weeks there are five different women. We never really find out why he invites them, whether he loves any of them, how much any of them feel for him, and how much they know about any of the other women who have also paid Steven a visit. We don't know very much about the book he is writing either except that the narrator offers Steven's own response in quotation marks: in his own words he was "writing an aesthetically complex response to hermetic currents in modern life." "This took time" the narrator replies, an ironic nod in a story that doesn't itself settle for the ironic mode. Maybe the book is good; perhaps not what seems undeniable is that Steven is writing a book about the currents in his own life as he is both hermetically sealed in his room and hermitically holed up in it while life is elsewhere. His visiting "women would arrange the children's hair in various elaborate styles that Constance hated...they all spent so much time with the children because they could not spend it with Steven..." The story is seen from Constance's point of view and Steven remains a mystery within it: she doesn't tell us how she got to know Steven, whether they have often visited him in the past and whether this daily disappearance happens to be exclusive to this summer or previous ones. Have they visited often before and that now his life has become much more emotionally complicated and his relationship to writing much more obsessive, is he someone they have known for years but haven't visited, or a more recent acquaintance? While we find out a great deal about Constance and Ben, and plenty about the five women who come and visit him, we find out almost nothing about Steven. One of the women happens to be his secretary in the city but we have no idea whether she is his personal secretary indicating a job of some importance, and probable prosperity, or the secretary in the office in which he works. The most important detail in the story has little to do with Steven at all but with Ben, whose heart attack that spring permeates the story and creates in Constance a sense of fearfulness. At one moment Ben says, "I can't remember very many Augusts," and adds, "I'm really going to remember my Augusts from now on." Constance starts crying and Ben reckons he can't talk to her. Constance says "that's not talking....That's shorthand, just a miserable shorthand." No explanation is offered for her tears or why she thinks Ben has offered "miserable shorthand" but whether Ben thought he was making a comment on his heart attack it seems clear that is exactly how Constance takes it.
While Steven is the mysterious figure the story chooses to withhold knowledge about, Constance has mystery of her own, someone who remains a little inexplicable to herself and also unwilling to try and understand herself too well. In one passage, after asking one of Steven's visitors whether she was in love with the host, "Constance thought about this. Perhaps love was neither the goal nor the answer. Constance loved Ben and what good did that do him? He had just almost died from her absorption in him. Perhaps understanding was more important than Love, and perhaps the highest form of understanding was the understanding of oneself, one's own motives and desires and capabilities." Constance thinks about this "but the idea didn't appeal to her much. She dismissed it." We might wonder whether she is dismissing the thought or thought more generally; the need to know thyself and whether it has much value. If our thinking leads nowhere, if it is merely idle reflection is this just consciousness going round in circles and of little more value than whatever consciousness we might assume an animal has? (Williams explores this very well in 'Another Season', where a man on a seasonally popular island lives a primitive and simple life while taking responsibility clearing away the numerous dead animals fast cars kill on the road. )
If certain fiction seems to have very little to do with the animal kingdom then it may partly rest on the paramountcy it gives to human consciousness and its machinations. Whether it is Jane Austen or detective fiction they appear much closer to deliberate sentience than Thomas Hardy and Emile Zola. People may be ignorant in Austen of their motives but motives they have, just as the murderer in detective fiction is the person with the most reason to kill someone: jealousy, debt, spite and greed all often valid. In Hardy and Zola's work the characters are more at the mercy of the elements or their biology, as if the motivation we might note is secondary to the elemental or the biological, intuition or instinct. As Hardy says in Return of the Native, "there are instances of persons who, without clear ideas...in the social sphere, these gifted ones are mostly women; they can watch a world which they never saw, and estimate forces of which they have only heard. We call it intuition." As Jacques kills Severine in La bete Humaine the narrator says, "with every second, as he struggled and tried to tear himself free from his obsession, he was losing a little of his will-power, taken over, as it were by the fixed idea, the extreme limit beyond which a man is defeated and surrenders to the urges of instinct."
Williams is much closer to Hardy and Zola than to Austen and detective fiction, seeing like them a human animal rather than a human soul, as though the being which is hardly unimportant (and a lot more significant in Hardy and Zola than a typical detective story) nevertheless passes through and must include the animals, for it is an act of denial to pretend we are not part of their world rather than the animal a peripheral figure in ours. "I want to be devastated in some way. Short stories need to touch people on a deeper level, a deeper, stranger level,' Williams says, before adding, "it's human beings who are unknowablewho can fathom or explain their cruelties and narcissism and nihilism?" (New York Times) "Williams seems to be searching for nothing less than a kind of artistic transfiguration, one in which humanity's role in fiction is lessened decidedly" Kois says, and yet at the same time this isn't because of a weaker sense of the human being but finally a stronger sense of animal existence.
© Tony McKibbin