Joy Williams in The New Yorker

I should have been smart enough to realize something most peculiar was up if I had noticed that the title page of Joy Williams short story in the Sept 30th New Yorker was all in small caps, both title and author’s name. That can be taken as a signal of formal innovation, an expectation that is most often disappointed, only not in this case.

The first-person narrator is a deputy in an academic institution, a kind of a facilitator to a grant program that makes an isolated ranch house, reached by a ford crossing a riverbed, mostly dry, available to someone working on an important scholarly project.

The story is an exercise in unmooring. But I need to make the ostensibly obvious point that you often don’t realize what you are moored to until you are unmoored from it.  When you go to school, you customarily have to attend an orientation. “Here is the campus: Behold the quad! The library! And the all-important student lounge!” I don’t know if Joy Williams ever attended any orientation meetings and if she found them helpful, but Williams, in her fiction, engineers disorientation meetings.

I didn’t think I’d be enjoying another talking dog story, but I was wrong. Williams does allow that maybe the first-person narrator is imagining the dog is talking, and I’d be willing to aver that the narrator is imagining the dog, but it seems just as likely that it’s the other way around. There’s a river horse (wonderful phrase!). There is also a brisk capuchin that comes on like Jackson Pollock with the color blue, only he dies suddenly-but isn’t death always sudden? I know, your erasure is presumed-but guess what! you don’t really believe that! Boy, are you in for a surprise!

Lewis Carroll would have loved this story, if he hadn’t been suddenly erased. The play of language in “The Fellow” is a little stellar chaos fit for the gods. Only, we aren’t any.

Erasure: that’s what’s so funny and so sad. Honestly, this story is a beauty and beautifully written. This is what literature is for. If I’ve managed to tell you as little about it as possible, I think you should congratulate me. Please don’t cancel your New Yorker subscription on account of me. Wait for the subscription to cancel you.