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ILL NATURE by Joy Williams Kirkus Star


Rants and Reflections on Humanity and Other Animals

by Joy Williams

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 1-58574-187-6
Publisher: Lyons Press

With wicked irony and wacky humor, essayist and novelist Williams (The Quick and the Dead, 2000, etc.) assails hunters, land developers, and scientists who experiment on animals.

These 19 pieces (modified from previous incarnations) display Williams’s mastery of a vast arsenal of literary weapons. Most potent of all is her wit. The opening essay, a tour de force written in the second person, skewers ordinary Americans who drift along with scarcely a thought about the consequences of their waste and their cruelty to other animals: “You don’t want to think about it! It’s all so uncool.” In another piece about Africa’s rapidly declining animal populations, she comments, “They’re still out there, in Africa, offering people the experience of their existence. Isn’t that nice?” Included here too are a controversial anti-hunting piece, whose original publication in Esquire occasioned many angry replies, and a funny rant about the humorless determination of American women, especially infertile women, to have babies—the author’s sly digression about Cabbage Patch dolls is worth the purchase price all by itself. Williams employs stealth weapons as well as heavy artillery. The account of her attempt to keep one acre of Florida in a natural state is as wistful as it is belligerent, and in a mere page and a half she deftly fillets John James Audubon, who killed for amusement far more birds than he ever painted. Perhaps the most gripping piece of all, “Hawk” begins with a lovely meditation about Glenn Gould, then segues seamlessly into a narrative about her loyal and loving German shepherd, which one day attacked without warning and nearly killed her. Williams, who has effectively arranged the volume with longer pieces separated by very short ones, concludes with “Why I Write,” an exquisite essay of illuminating paradoxes—e.g., “A writer loves the dark, loves it, but is always fumbling around in the light.”

Savage, serious, hilarious, passionate, loving, and lyrical.