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Joy Williams

September 16, 2012

I felt a certain amount of creepiness, the association of the little girl with the woman. Is the woman waiting inside the girl to be realized? Or is the girl buried inside the woman? Confusion about which reality is real, or neither. There is something ominous, this sense of foreboding like the man is the embodiment of death or violence. As if all women will eventually be battered. As if love is only violence: “The claims of love and self-preservation are opposed.”
The structure of the story moves from following the girl qua child weaving in the second aspect of her womanhood which eventually takes over completely, only to be drawn back to the story of the child. It is like reading a story with two eyes. You open and close each eye, switching back and forth between the stories, and then you open both of your eyes.
There was a certain point when my willingness to accept whatever the story wanted to show me broke down. Both aspects of the story were kind of grounded in their own reality, but with a higher saturation of bleed-over, the language became symbolic. Instead of describing things that happened, the prose just sort of wafted atmospherically.
In her interview with Tao Lin, Joy Williams says, “Facts have limitations.” Also, “The conundrum of literature is that it is not supposed to say anything. Often a reader can enjoy a story or novel simply because he can admire the writer’s skill in getting out of it.” I think that was something I felt while reading “The Excursion.” Less an appreciation for what the story was than how it was told. It reminded me of Yannick Murphy a lot in that regard. Just these amazing sentences that could have been about almost anything.
I have always been fascinated by the notion of fiction being a genre that literally does not tell the truth. I think it is interesting to play with this idea in stories. Because I think readers want the truth, even in fiction. There is something that fiction is capable of by lying, like protecting us from reality.
I have a whole bunch of sentences that I really liked that seemed crucial to understanding or not understanding the story:

Jenny lies a little.
She is lost in a place that is not her childhood.
It is as though she rushes forward to meet even her memories.
[I]f [the watch] is not abused it will keep fairly reasonable time.
Their lives are incompatible with the limits imposed upon their experience.
[I]t is a terrible risk of oneself to lie. It risks control, peace, self-knowledge, even, perhaps, the proper acceptance of love.
[L]ying gives a beat and structure to Jenny’s life that the truth has not yet justified.
Loving, for her, will not be a free choosing of her destiny. It will be the discovery of the most fateful part of herself.
Women suffer from the loss of a secret once known.
He doesn’t age. …Jenny knows that she has originated with him, that anything before him was nostalgia for this.
She is just a child embracing the crisis of a woman.
Her childhood eludes them all.
She is what she will be.
There is a sense of blood, decay, the smell of love.
[S]he has plans for the future. Jenny has lived in nothing if not the future all her life.
What does time matter to the inevitability of relations? It is inevitability that matters to lives, not love.

One of my favorite images was of the man shaving turned into a white mask with a dark hole for a mouth. I liked how Williams could transform something as banal as daily ablutions into existential terror.

Questions for the class:
What does the repetition of the different derivations of “Jenny is just a child” do?
Do you prefer a story with solid ground (realism) or one in which nothing is a given (surrealism)? How does this story stake out a middle territory?
How do Jenny’s lying and irrational fears inform the rest of the story?

Next week’s story is “Driver” by Frederick Bartheleme.



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