How do you describe the experience of hearing a cherished writer reading her work aloud for the first time?
I did know that Michael Silverblatt had interviewed Joy Williams on more than one occasion for Bookworm, and that these interviews could be listened to on-line. I guess I would have looked for them earlier if I hadn't had such resistance to Michael Silverblatt, who always struck me as taking up too much space and being a little in love with his profundity. (Am I going to get in trouble for saying that? Perhaps that sentence will need deletion.) I guess I sort of came around to him last night when I found out that he was one of Joy's biggest cheerleaders. After having had her on the show several times, he seemed to figure out that he needed to get out of the way, to let her read. To let the stories speak for themselves.
Sometimes I like to entertain myself by making a list of writers who call themselves Joy Wllliams fans: Adam Haslett, Noy Holland, Scott Heim, Cheryl Strayed, Sarah Braunstein, Dennis Cooper, Leni Zumas, Alexander Chee, Myfanwy Collins, Patrick Ryan, Salvatore Scibona, Michael Carroll. What characteristics connect us?
I've known Joy for a long time. The first time we met was back in '96, at the Key West Literary Seminar. I saw her walking into the party; I saw her from far across the room, and I trembled. Literally. I'd never experienced that before--that simultaneous sense of feeling crushed and exhilarated by the human presence of someone whose work was crucial to me. Mark seemed to figure out that contact needed to be made, and he introduced us. I certainly was in no shape to walk up to her myself. She liked hearing about how much I loved her work--I'm sure my sentences trailed off; I'm sure I seemed vaguely dim--but she liked even more the admission that I'd named the developer in LAWNBOY after Clem, the dog in BREAKING AND ENTERING. Now we're talking! she said, and gave me that huge, wonderful smile.
I'm not going to give an account of every exchange I've had with Joy since then--I'm already feeling a little Silverblattish: taking up too much space! But I'll say there's the Joy I know, and there's the Joy who writes. I know the two are connected, but that still didn't prepare me for the surprise of hearing her work in her voice for the first time last night. I woke up happy this morning, as if I'd happened upon a new door into a house I thought I'd known so well.
The link to the show is below. She reads three selections from HONORED GUEST, the sublime "Marabou" and passages from "The Other Week" and the title story. First, though, the passage from "The Other Week":
"What are you getting so upset about?" Freddie said.
"Space and time," she said. "Those used to be the requirements. Space and time or you couldn't get into the nightclub. Our senses were like the nightclub doorkeeper who only let people in who were sensibly dressed, and the criteria for being properly dressed or respectably addressed, whatever, was that things had to be covered up in space and time."
"Who said this?"
Freddie removed his hand from her thigh. "Something's been lost in the translation of that one, Francine. Why does one want to get into the nightclub anyway? Or that nightclub rather than another one?"
"We are the nightclub!" she said. "We're each our own nightclub! And the nightclub might want other patrons. Other patrons might be absolutely necessary for the nightclub to succeed!"
"I think it's a little late to be discussing Kant with such earnestness," Freddie said.
"You mean a little this night late or a little life late?"
He nodded, meaning both.
And now, the link: