The Quick and The Dead, by Joy Williams, could easily be mistaken for a small, quiet book if you only read the first few pages. These opening pages, when Alice is still a stranger, and when Williams’ weird world hasn’t quite unfolded yet, are an illusion. It doesn’t take much longer to realize that this book is bold.
Alice, a central figure, seems to be the glue that holds the rest of the book together. She begins as radical, to the reader at least, a teenager who swears while she babysits and gets abandoned far from home by the mom for whom she works. However, as we get deeper, Alice becomes a regular fixture, and it’s against her that we can measure all of the other elements of the book. A rebellious teenager starts to look pretty normal next to a man haunted by his dead wife’s ghost, eerie museums and nursing homes, and a man whose life is dictated by a monkey rambling around his head. Even the only two girls Alice can call her friends become more alluring than Alice herself, the tragedy of Corvus and the quiet persistence of Annabel poignantly showing us true suffering and mystique. Indeed, Alice almost becomes garrulous and obnoxious as we see her striving, striving to become the unusual woman she wants to be but can’t quite develop into naturally.
The best part of this book is finally figuring out what “the quick” in the title refers to. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the book becomes a haunting comparison between life and death in the most original way— Joy Williams teaches us about the mystery that surrounds both, and bends the definitions of the two ideas intimately and inexorably.