"Your work is only as good as your concentra...Hey look--A cloud shaped like Snoopy!"

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"'Want a pop?' she said.  Alice shook her head.  'Sure?' the woman said.  'It's mostly fruit juices.'

I want...a scar, Alice thought.  A scar that would send shivers up peoples' spines but would not elicit pity.  She didn't want that kind of scar" (Willaims 7)


Welcome to stream-of-consciousness.  My opinion on this type of narration has always been an emphatic "meh".  I've read pieces of stream-of-consciousness I enjoy, pieces that I despise, and never really managed to get a grounded yay or nay for the technique.  Joy Williams dives unapologetically forward, committing completely to this style.  At first, I was tentative to join her; sometimes stream-of-consciousness is confusing and tedious.  However, the quoted section above marks the moment I agreed whole-heartedly to go along for the ride. 

Instead of viewing stream-of-consciousness as an alternative to more logical narration, I now see it as  ultra-logical.  Williams'details and sudden veers "off subject" are more true-to-life than writing that portrays each character's thoughts and dialogue as being purely topical.  Those among us who are easily distracted (and even those among us who aren't overly so) will vouch for the fact that there are times someone may offer you a soda, and your first thought will not be concerning the soda's flavor or your thirst, but, hey, it'd be really great if you knew how to juggle.  Now, the leap you made may seem completely random if spoken aloud,  and maybe it makes sense in your mind (well, you wanted three sodas, but only have two hands, and it would just be pretty impressive if you could ask for three and then start to juggle the cans...) or maybe not, but the fact is, our minds are all over the place.  I think the descriptions of each character are so skilled and in-depth because we're reading thoughts that, even in other forms of literature, we would not be privy to.  This is human analysis on a different level, managing to be spontaneous without being random.   


See what other people have to say about the first third of The Quick and the Dead


I wonder also if the references to pop and fruit juices, which I associated with children, also helps set up the contrast with the scar.

BTW, remember to post the trackback to the course web page.

Josie Rush said:

Dr. Jerz, good point. The contrast helps point out that Alice may still technically be a child, but she's not really thinking about childlike things, nor is she enjoying them. It's like we talked about in class concerning the Billy Collins poem Turning Ten, some people grow up very quickly. Though, it's apparent through other parts of the book (when she lies about her boyfriend and tries to interact with the piano player), Alice isn't as grown up as she'd like to be.

Melissa Schwenk said:

I liked the stream of consciousness that plays out through this book, and the book would be very ineffective without it. Anyway, to kind of go off on a tangent from your blog, I thought the scar was very important to the first meeting Alice has with Ray. Ray probably doesn’t have a scar exactly, but he does have a lop-sided mouth that doesn’t elicit pity at all, but more of a hatred or anger from people. Alice doesn’t seem to care about this at all, but only seems to get angry about him messing with the animal figures. I was hoping that Williams would throw in some kind of thought from Alice about his disfigurement, but unfortunately, we only had Ray’s stream of conscious thought.

Josie Rush said:

Hm, yeah, you're right. I didn't make that connection until you mentioned it. Ray has they type of "scar" Alice thinks she wants, but she doesn't even seem to notice Ray's disfigurement (or if she does, Ray doesn't notice her noticing. As you said, it would've been interesting to be in Alice's mind for that meeting.). Maybe this is a commentary on Alice's beliefs about herself? Perhaps she doesn't know what she wants after all.
(I feel like all my comments need a *speculation* disclaimer, since I haven't read the entire book yet, so here it is: I'm just guessing, here.)

Jessica Orlowski said:

Interesting- in your first comment, Josie, you say that Alice "isn't as grown up as she'd like to be." Well, i think that Williams DEFINATELY eludes to that point on page 38:

" Alice hadn't had her period since the last time she'd practiced roping on Saint Francis, and that had been almost five years ago. She was gangly as a willet now, a misnthrope and a disbeliever."

Alice has been stuck in a world of illusions- her "parents" are her grandparents, and her "brother and his girlfriend" are her actual parents. When she finds out about this debacle (i love that world), it seems as if she wants to finally grow up. However, her body physically prevents her from doing so, indicating that there is something different about Alice...

Jessie Krehlik said:

I enjoyed the stream of conscious too. I've read a few other books where it was written like this--although I can't think of their names right now, and I really think that it strengthens a book. I also really like that the book switches from one person's point of view to another. However, sometimes it confused me a little. I was expecting a break or a transition, but sometimes it seemed like Williams just switched the points of view very abruptly.

First: Your title made me laugh out loud. Props.

You would think I would be able to relate to the characters more since I have such a disjointed stream of consciousness myself. However, I felt disconnected to them. I think this was because of the fact that I still don't really understand the book, and I don't know if I ever will. Williams used the stream of consciousness to confuse the reader more, in my opinion. I feel like she withheld some of the characters' thoughts, and made me *think* that I was hearing everything they thought, only for her to turn it around and be like, "Ha! I was just kidding. You're not getting any more insight than that." It's cruel, unnecessary punishment.

Josie Rush said:

Lol. Yeah, it's cruel, but sort of more realistic. It's really annoying, I agree, because there were a few times I wanted to be seeing from another pov, and I felt like Williams switched just to keep us guessing (which is fine, but still.). Like the meeting between Ray and Alice. We never see Alice's thoughts on that, except for briefly afterwards when she can't even remember him. Or Corvus. We heard from her about three times. I still don't really know what was going on there. I guess that's the risk Williams took when she chose to write the book this way. Is what I'm hearing that we think her risk didn't pay off? Would it have been better if we'd only heard from one person the entire time and really gotten to know that person, and the world, through his/her eyes?

No, I like the way that she showed us the point of view from several characters. I just felt like there were so many characters, and we were being purposefully excluded from some of their thoughts. That fits with the rest of the confusion in the novel, which I think was intentional... it was just frustrating.

Josie Rush said:

I agree with you, Karyssa. You mentioned in an earlier blog about Wordsworth simplicity adding to his overall theme, and I think this is another example where Williams' choice fit nicely with her theme. The confusion and desire to know more just tied in with the questions about death she was trying to approach. Though, in my humble opinion, perhaps there were too many characters we saw through? I dunno, but I hate to constantly say, "Well, I was confused, but it's OK. That's the *theme*." It's sort of a cop-out.

I definitely agree with you. I feel like if I could just understand a tiny bit more, I would be at peace with this book. There were just too many characters.

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