ESCAPES: Stories by Joy Williams

ESCAPES: Stories

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KIRKUS REVIEW

More fiction in the trendy, detached mode, by the critically acclaimed author of Breaking and Entering (1988), etc., this collection brings together 12 stories, all but one previously published in such magazines as Esquire, Granta, and Grand Street. Williams' weird, seemingly anesthetized, protagonists are usually in flight: from inexorable fate, from the oppressive past, from reality itself. And their ""escapes"" often take literal form--""The Route"" is a travelogue of a desultory trip from New York to Key West taken by the narrator and her dying husband, who's twice and a half her age. Death looms in ""The Little Winter"" as well, in which a 35-year-old unmarried woman with an inoperable brain tumor visits her four-times married best friend, and impulsively runs off with the latter's fat and precocious daughter. Another young woman married to an older man who's dying, in ""Rot,"" cannot indulge his parking a decaying vintage Thunderbird in the middle of their living room. The future bodes ill for the middle-aged couple in ""The Bromeliads,"" who assume guardianship of their disturbed daughter's surprise baby, even though the new grandmother is suffering from a serious, undiagnosed condition. A tragic past dominates the characters in ""The Skater"" and ""White,"" all haunted by the loss of children, though the latter is--for Williams--an uncharacteristically complex tale in which the dominant image is actually defined in a meaningful way. More typical of Williams is the bizarre ""The Blue Men,"" in which a 13-year-old boy lives with his odd grandmother after his father has been killed in the electric chair for murdering a cop. The nine-year-old boy in ""The Last Generation,"" confused by his mother's accidental death, develops a friendship with his older brother's 16-year-old ex-girlfriend, who's slightly crazy, intellectually advanced, and coincidentally something of a teen-age Spengler. Which shouldn't be much of a surprise in a collection that includes the pointless reverie in which the notorious mystic Gurdjieff roams Florida and finds Nietzsche on the beach (""Gurdjieff in the Sunshine State""). 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.

Pub Date: Jan. 25th, 1989
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly--dist. by Little, Brown