“The Girls,” by Joy Williams, was first published in the Idaho Review VI in 2004 and later reprinted in The Best American Short Stories 2005, edited by Michael Chabon. Williams, who began publishing fiction in the 1960s, is often compared to Flannery O’Connor, an American writer known for her Southern gothic stories. Although Williams is not a southern writer, she does use the gothic and grotesque to great effect in her work. Williams has also been compared to American writer Raymond Carver. Devoted to the short story form, Carver is known as a minimalist—a style reflected in Williams’s own stories, which critics have sometimes described as cool and terse. Her style is a unique blend of the weird and the grim. Williams does not flinch from the harsh realities of life or bury her characters in fantasy, but her fiction always has a flavor of the fantastical or hyper-realistic.
“The Girls” is a story about cruelty and family dysfunction, featuring two sisters who are closer than twins and behave as if they are evil incarnate. The girls occupy themselves with tormenting their parents’ houseguests—until one guest turns the tables on them. This story, as with many of Williams’s other works of fiction, selects death as an available escape from life’s travails.