Literary Criticism and Significance
Joy Williams is a highly respected writer of novels and short stories and is often described as the heir to Flannery O’Connor. The Quick and the Dead, her fourth novel, was met with a great deal of critical acclaim. She has also received plaudits from her peers, including Bret Easton Ellis and Don DeLillo. Williams’s work has been nominated for many prestigious awards, including the National Book Award; The Quick and the Dead was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
The Quick and the Dead is in many ways a strong representation of Williams’s body of work. Williams has developed a reputation in her fiction for difficult and unsettling endings, thus Alice’s movement from independence to pitiable impotence should not come as a surprise. Williams has sympathized with animal rights activists and environmentalists in both her fiction and her journalism, specifically the essay collection Ill Nature. While Alice may not emerge the stronger for her radical positions on animal rights and the environment, Jessica Schuessler of The New York Times points out that when J.C.’s penis is blown off, it is “authorial rough justice” for his attack of Thomas, Corvus’s dog. The Quick and the Dead offers yet another example of Williams’s characteristically unique and fascinating prose.
Critics also often praise Williams for her characterization and dialogue. All of her characters are prone to bold and unique declarations that are often as humorous as they are shocking. In fact, the characters of The Quick and the Dead are extremely quotable, and often their declarations, though touching on morbid subjects, are hilarious. Still, S.B. Kleinman suggests that this unusual dialogue is taken to an extreme, arguing that
having everyone speak either in Zen koans or as if reading lecture notes gets old real fast.
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