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Harrow

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In her first novel since The Quick and the Dead (nominated for the Pulitzer Prize), the legendary writer takes us into an uncertain landscape after an environmental apocalypse, a world in which only the man-made has value, but some still wish to salvage the authentic. Khristen is a teenager who, her mother believes, was marked by greatness a In her first novel since The Quick and the Dead (nominated for the Pulitzer Prize), the legendary writer takes us into an uncertain landscape after an environmental apocalypse, a world in which only the man-made has value, but some still wish to salvage the authentic. Khristen is a teenager who, her mother believes, was marked by greatness as a baby when she died for a moment and then came back to life. After Khristen's failing boarding school for gifted teens closes its doors, and she finds that her mother has disappeared, she ranges across the dead landscape and washes up at a resort on the shores of a mysterious, putrid lake the elderly residents there call Big Girl. In a rotting honeycomb of rooms, these old ones plot actions to punish corporations and people they consider culpable in the destruction of the final scraps of nature's beauty. What will Khristen and Jeffrey, the precocious ten-year-old boy she meets there, learn from this baggy seditious lot, in the worst of health but with kamikaze hearts, determined to refresh, through crackpot violence, a plundered earth? Rivetingly strange and beautiful, and delivered with Williams's searing, deadpan wit, Harrow is their intertwined tale of paradise lost and of their reasons—against all reasonableness—to try and recover something of it.


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In her first novel since The Quick and the Dead (nominated for the Pulitzer Prize), the legendary writer takes us into an uncertain landscape after an environmental apocalypse, a world in which only the man-made has value, but some still wish to salvage the authentic. Khristen is a teenager who, her mother believes, was marked by greatness a In her first novel since The Quick and the Dead (nominated for the Pulitzer Prize), the legendary writer takes us into an uncertain landscape after an environmental apocalypse, a world in which only the man-made has value, but some still wish to salvage the authentic. Khristen is a teenager who, her mother believes, was marked by greatness as a baby when she died for a moment and then came back to life. After Khristen's failing boarding school for gifted teens closes its doors, and she finds that her mother has disappeared, she ranges across the dead landscape and washes up at a resort on the shores of a mysterious, putrid lake the elderly residents there call Big Girl. In a rotting honeycomb of rooms, these old ones plot actions to punish corporations and people they consider culpable in the destruction of the final scraps of nature's beauty. What will Khristen and Jeffrey, the precocious ten-year-old boy she meets there, learn from this baggy seditious lot, in the worst of health but with kamikaze hearts, determined to refresh, through crackpot violence, a plundered earth? Rivetingly strange and beautiful, and delivered with Williams's searing, deadpan wit, Harrow is their intertwined tale of paradise lost and of their reasons—against all reasonableness—to try and recover something of it.

30 review for Harrow

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jenny Lawson

    I'm 99% positive I'm just too dumb to understand this book. It was like reading a psychedelic fever dream. Often confusing and extraordinarily weird but with enough brilliant moments to keep me reading. I'm 99% positive I'm just too dumb to understand this book. It was like reading a psychedelic fever dream. Often confusing and extraordinarily weird but with enough brilliant moments to keep me reading.

  2. 4 out of 5

    lark benobi

    I kept reading. I kept turning pages. My brain unraveled completely.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    Quirky, off-kilter, irreverent, not quite shocking, perhaps intentionally vague. But enough about me. There is much to like in this latest novel by Joy Williams. It's dystopian, maybe. There are funny vignettes, but maybe it's the wordplay within that is what makes the humor. The novel opens, more or less, as a story about Khristen (her father was obsessed with boats, but her mother insisted, at the least, on the first letter "K"). Her mother, crazy like all Williams' mothers, believes Khristen ha Quirky, off-kilter, irreverent, not quite shocking, perhaps intentionally vague. But enough about me. There is much to like in this latest novel by Joy Williams. It's dystopian, maybe. There are funny vignettes, but maybe it's the wordplay within that is what makes the humor. The novel opens, more or less, as a story about Khristen (her father was obsessed with boats, but her mother insisted, at the least, on the first letter "K"). Her mother, crazy like all Williams' mothers, believes Khristen has momentarily died and is thus marked for greatness. She says, Even if I was mistaken that night and you didn't cross over the shadow line, the borderland, do you ever feel that you have died and are walking among those who might have died as well but are not telling? Because . . . no one tells. Portentous. But nothing in a Williams novel is so straightforward. Slowly, Khristen steps aside as a character, but not before she meets Jeffrey, a precocious ten year-old. Jeffrey is already steeped in the law, spouting legal principles in everyday conversations, and thanks to the time-warp of Williams' writing, becomes a judge. Still ten years-old. But why not? For his tenth birthday, he was given a cake depicting his father's murder. It was Jeffrey's grandfather (tata) who killed his father, the details unclear. It was tata, too, who would read Kafka to Jeffrey at bedtime. Jeffrey, don't play with your thoughts, his mother said. So, he had a unique perspective when he sat in his courtroom: Every person under his purview considered themselves unique as snowflakes but in the aggregate they were a blizzard, a whiteout of swirling expectations and denial. Other characters come and go. There's Foxy: She wondered if his pecker was as shredded and gribbled and nicked as the rest of him or whether it hung wondrously, impossibly smooth and aloof, its head like burled oak. She'd like to coax it out and mock it. Still, Gordon was kind of cool. Perhaps all humans can be classified as either gribbled and nicked or smooth and aloof. I pondered this, and wondered which category I'd fall in, but now I can't tell you anything else about Foxy and Gordon. It was that kind of reading experience. Eventually, Khristen seemed to have disappeared, but a first person singular starts talking near book's end. Maybe that's Khristen, who now has become . . . ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- But why harrow? Why call the novel Harrow? It's not an everyday word for me, so I looked it up, early on. Definitions teach that it's a farming implement made for tilling soil, and it can be noun, verb, adverb, whatever you want. And I supposed that could be some symbolism surely. But the harrows in this book are, apparently, some form of art placed on the door to houses or other buildings. Like on the cover of this novel. Oh, there's horse symbolism too, but I got stuck on the harrow. I was hoping there'd be some elucidation. There was this: The harrow had initially been perceived as brutally and blithely indiscriminate, but further studies indicated that those it spared were rigidly optimistic, uninhibited and chary of any devotion. . . . Of course studies were always shifting, changing, coming up with some new angle, affirming the opposite of what they'd just assured everyone about. Now it was being discovered that some were prone to dying from the harrow's requirements after being initially spared. Perhaps I should stop playing with my thoughts.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Jackson

    Astonishing.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Grady

    To everyone saying they are too dumb for this book, not necessarily. Is Harrow a good Joy Williams introduction? No. It is a masterpiece however, as all her work arguably is. I have never casually recommended Joy Williams to anyone. She’s often challenging, and can SEEM nonsensical. To a Joy Williams beginner who I know nothing about their reading preferences or histories, I’d say to start with Breaking and Entering (perhaps my favorite novel ever) or The Quick and the Dead, or better yet The V To everyone saying they are too dumb for this book, not necessarily. Is Harrow a good Joy Williams introduction? No. It is a masterpiece however, as all her work arguably is. I have never casually recommended Joy Williams to anyone. She’s often challenging, and can SEEM nonsensical. To a Joy Williams beginner who I know nothing about their reading preferences or histories, I’d say to start with Breaking and Entering (perhaps my favorite novel ever) or The Quick and the Dead, or better yet The Visiting Privilege - collected stories including 4 collection’s worth. These are easier navigated than the far more challenging Changeling, and one of the single most challenging works I’ve read (I’d put it around the level of Krasznahorkai per difficulty) her debut; State of Grace. I’d place Harrow somewhere around Changeling, as far as the depth of the “fever dream” the reader will experience. To the skeptical reader I’d say that the method of just letting it wash over you clearly didn’t work, this is one way to read her, the other is to take notes. I have done both with a number of her novels and the more reads the better as well. I’ve just finished my first read of Harrow and I took about 2k words worth of short hand notes. Some I’m sure can read and fully grasp it all in one go, but I find this hard to believe and think people just don’t want to admit that reading can be hard when they’re “big readers” or “smart” people. Now 2k words of work may sound like more work than you want to do for a 200 pg novel, and that’s fine, Joy certainly wouldn’t care, as with this move probably more than ever at the age of 74, with this, her first novel in 20 years. BUT the entire world of Joy Williams awaits you and is so worth the process it takes you to revel there. But also she’s devastating. I’ve often told friends of mine who’ve inquired about her that her thing is existential dread, wry humor; a fever dream doused in pitch. As far as actually reviewing this novel, probably gimme a couple years.

  6. 4 out of 5

    S̶e̶a̶n̶

    They did not consider themselves 'terrorists,' reserving that word for the bankers and builders, the industrial engineers, purveyors of war and the market, it goes without saying, the exterminators and excavators, the breeders and consumers of every stripe, those locusts of clattering, clacking hunger. They did not consider themselves 'terrorists,' reserving that word for the bankers and builders, the industrial engineers, purveyors of war and the market, it goes without saying, the exterminators and excavators, the breeders and consumers of every stripe, those locusts of clattering, clacking hunger.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Alyson Hagy

    I thought Williams's The Changeling was one of a kind, but Harrow is in a new category. It's a dark, lashing, bitterly funny text--a novel shaped more by scene and koan than narrative. How can a writer relay the story of a destroyed world, after all? I'm a deep fan of Williams's short stories. And I thought The Quick and the Dead was a mordant masterwork. But this book is kin to Kafka or Krasznahorkai and other unflinching observers of human rubble. Harsh. Startling. It will make you question ev I thought Williams's The Changeling was one of a kind, but Harrow is in a new category. It's a dark, lashing, bitterly funny text--a novel shaped more by scene and koan than narrative. How can a writer relay the story of a destroyed world, after all? I'm a deep fan of Williams's short stories. And I thought The Quick and the Dead was a mordant masterwork. But this book is kin to Kafka or Krasznahorkai and other unflinching observers of human rubble. Harsh. Startling. It will make you question every assumption you have about righteousness and creature comfort. An unforgiving (in the best sense) work of art.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kim Lockhart

    This was my first experience reading Joy Williams, and I immediately connected with her unmatched, unapologetic, scathing wit. Her writing is smart, taut, philosophically fluent, and laser-focused on a world in environmental, political, and social chaos. The author slaps us down into a blistering post-apocalyptic setting, and intentionally immerses us in the kind of unfamiliar absurdity which causes nervous uncomfortable laughter. The atmospheric disarray is exceeded only by the increasingly jum This was my first experience reading Joy Williams, and I immediately connected with her unmatched, unapologetic, scathing wit. Her writing is smart, taut, philosophically fluent, and laser-focused on a world in environmental, political, and social chaos. The author slaps us down into a blistering post-apocalyptic setting, and intentionally immerses us in the kind of unfamiliar absurdity which causes nervous uncomfortable laughter. The atmospheric disarray is exceeded only by the increasingly jumbled thoughts of the characters. It is, in a word, brilliant.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Vincent Scarpa

    “She was losing nerve-cell population daily. Everyone was. The last physician she had gone to said it wasn’t an acute problem. We have more nerve cells than we ever employ. Massive loss is not unacceptable, he assured her. He compared it to the amount of ink that can fade from a written message without changing what it says. She had found this charming. But there comes a moment when the message changes or becomes unintelligible or both, doesn’t it doctor? she had said. And he had smiled and said “She was losing nerve-cell population daily. Everyone was. The last physician she had gone to said it wasn’t an acute problem. We have more nerve cells than we ever employ. Massive loss is not unacceptable, he assured her. He compared it to the amount of ink that can fade from a written message without changing what it says. She had found this charming. But there comes a moment when the message changes or becomes unintelligible or both, doesn’t it doctor? she had said. And he had smiled and said, Of course.”

  10. 4 out of 5

    Evan Dent

    perfect writer perfect book

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie G.

    This is an experimental novel, and the thing about experiments is that mostly they fail, those failures are the way we guide ourselves to success. I see what Williams was shooting for here, but this is a failure. Williams' has often focused on environmental collapse in her work, a topic that is now de rigueur. In Harrow it is the end of the world, adults are crazy (they know what is lost but seem unable to face the fact they squandered it) and turn instead to ridiculous belief systems and spend This is an experimental novel, and the thing about experiments is that mostly they fail, those failures are the way we guide ourselves to success. I see what Williams was shooting for here, but this is a failure. Williams' has often focused on environmental collapse in her work, a topic that is now de rigueur. In Harrow it is the end of the world, adults are crazy (they know what is lost but seem unable to face the fact they squandered it) and turn instead to ridiculous belief systems and spend time working on teaching themselves to embrace entropy. Williams is clearly reaching for a sly end-of-times humor which, in my opinion, she never gets a hold of. Of Williams' books I have only read Escapes, a collection of Williams' short stories (which impressed me on the whole) so maybe this is what a Williams novel looks like and she is just not the writer for me. The prose is interesting but clunky, as if it needs a couple more edits, the messaging is so far (I quit at the 38% mark) clunkier than the prose. I cringed when the wise ass child lamented extinction of the polar bears and her mother's response was to scoff and argue that losing the polar bears doesn't matter at all and to say something like "when is the last time a polar bear wrote a good book?" Puhleez. Maybe that will have them rolling in the English Department meeting, but it showed me a writer who doesn't know people well enough to satirize them. I enjoyed the idea of the mother who lived to convince others that her entirely ordinary child was something special and dedicated herself to proving wrong every other human on the planet, all of whom confirmed her typicality. I mean, maybe its me, but I could not convince myself finishing would be a good use of my time.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jake

    Except for Pynchon, I don’t think there’s a living American author I’d be more excited about dropping a new novel than Joy Williams, and Harrow, her first in twenty-one years, is certainly a Joy Williams novel: dead parents, precocious children, ephemeral feeling of unease, and of course her unequaled feral-desert-monk prose. Here she has pared all this down. Everything is loose and wispy, time is confused and unsure, just as it should be in a world that goes on after it has ended. Williams’ tou Except for Pynchon, I don’t think there’s a living American author I’d be more excited about dropping a new novel than Joy Williams, and Harrow, her first in twenty-one years, is certainly a Joy Williams novel: dead parents, precocious children, ephemeral feeling of unease, and of course her unequaled feral-desert-monk prose. Here she has pared all this down. Everything is loose and wispy, time is confused and unsure, just as it should be in a world that goes on after it has ended. Williams’ touch is as light as it is masterful. What more can she say? She has been saying it all along. A (final?) wave of the hand, bleak as bones bleached by the sun.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mitch Loflin

    This was gothic, witty, spooky, very confusing, very disorienting, very challenging, felt like I was in a haze, kind of have a headache now, please don't ask me what this book was about, I don't really know. Now it's time to Google "harrow joy williams ending what does it mean." This was gothic, witty, spooky, very confusing, very disorienting, very challenging, felt like I was in a haze, kind of have a headache now, please don't ask me what this book was about, I don't really know. Now it's time to Google "harrow joy williams ending what does it mean."

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    Winner of the prestigious Kirkus Prize, this book was an interesting read rather than an enjoyable one. Just too damn bleak and confusing, and really too erudite for me to appreciate on a single read. I am humbled as a reader.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chris Haak

    Did I comprehend all of it? No way! I more or less understood part 1 and 2 but the last part confused me a bit. I had so much fun reading this though! Williams’s weirdness and sense of humour is absolutely brilliant! Thank you Profile Books for the ARC.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Adrian Alvarez

    Zooming way up to the top of my list of reads this year is a new book from the extraordinary Joy Williams. Is there an American author I am in awe of as much as her? As with State of Grace you just have to hang on and trust Williams knows what she's doing as you read this novel and boy does she ever. This is a funny, intelligent, moving, and mystical jaunt through all manner of contemporary topics and in the background we have Joy singing loudly to her Big Theme: "All art is about nothingness: o Zooming way up to the top of my list of reads this year is a new book from the extraordinary Joy Williams. Is there an American author I am in awe of as much as her? As with State of Grace you just have to hang on and trust Williams knows what she's doing as you read this novel and boy does she ever. This is a funny, intelligent, moving, and mystical jaunt through all manner of contemporary topics and in the background we have Joy singing loudly to her Big Theme: "All art is about nothingness: our apprehension of it, our fear of it, its approach."

  17. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Rooney

    First lines: My mother and father named me Lamb. My mother believed that I had died as an infant but then come back to the life we shared. As I grew, her intention and need was to put me in touch with where I had been when I was dead, what I remembered of it and what I had learned. She believed that I was destined for something extraordinary. The novel has a bit of a surreal element. I felt unbalanced from the start of the novel, never entirely certain what was going on. I couldn't quite get a h First lines: My mother and father named me Lamb. My mother believed that I had died as an infant but then come back to the life we shared. As I grew, her intention and need was to put me in touch with where I had been when I was dead, what I remembered of it and what I had learned. She believed that I was destined for something extraordinary. The novel has a bit of a surreal element. I felt unbalanced from the start of the novel, never entirely certain what was going on. I couldn't quite get a handle on the setting. It's a post-apocalyptic novel of sorts, but the apocalypse was the ongoing environmental collapse. The-people-fiddle-as-the-world burns-kind of thing. There's a great scene in a bowling alley. Anyway, as the novel opens Khristen takes us quickly through her childhood before we see her at her boarding school. There's a scene where the author reveals that oranges no longer exist or are extremely rare. The school lacks all kinds of resources, and Khristen decides it is pointless and leaves to find her mother. The last time she saw her mother she was hiding to a conference at a resort by a lake. It was roughly 300 miles from the school. Khristen sets out to find her. She travels through a strange but recognizable landscape before arriving at an old resort by a heavily polluted lake. The resort is inhabited by senior citizens who we are supposed to be leaving on some kind of missions but seem reluctant to do so. It's not a novel that will appeal to a lot of people, but it's smart and interesting and thought-provoking. Joy Williams has such a great and distinctive writing style. She possesses a very sharp-edged wit that comes across in her writing. I recommend it for people who like smart, unusual literary fiction.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Meg [franklybookish]

    Unfortunately, what started out as a synopsis that I found incredibly intriguing and up my ally (as a lover of dark ambiguous dystopian) I think I was perhaps too dumb for this book. I found on many occasions, that although I was reading, taking in words regularly, forming images in my head, I was not retaining or understanding anything. I found the story incredibly difficult to follow, the dialogue and interactions confusing and just plain weird, out of sorts, and befuddling, all of which took Unfortunately, what started out as a synopsis that I found incredibly intriguing and up my ally (as a lover of dark ambiguous dystopian) I think I was perhaps too dumb for this book. I found on many occasions, that although I was reading, taking in words regularly, forming images in my head, I was not retaining or understanding anything. I found the story incredibly difficult to follow, the dialogue and interactions confusing and just plain weird, out of sorts, and befuddling, all of which took away from the reading experience. Again, I think perhaps I was missing some very important pieces of information and deep knowledge of philosophy which is not an area I am particularly experienced in. IDK, I could definitely tell you a little of what happened in these pages but not why, what the purpose was, or what the ultimate stake away or story was. The synopsis should be reworked to more accurately reflect this book. IMO. Thanks to Knopf for the advanced copy.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Phyllis

    I think I am not as smart as this book needs me to be to understand it. I think I got the general gist of the overarching tale, but I'm pretty sure I didn't really follow the storyline all that well. The setting, as best I understand it, is America after an ecological apocalypse, where nothing that is not man-made (other than people) stands much chance of survival. There are no mammals or birds it seems, although there is mention of owls and horrible fish mutations. There is still dirt and water, I think I am not as smart as this book needs me to be to understand it. I think I got the general gist of the overarching tale, but I'm pretty sure I didn't really follow the storyline all that well. The setting, as best I understand it, is America after an ecological apocalypse, where nothing that is not man-made (other than people) stands much chance of survival. There are no mammals or birds it seems, although there is mention of owls and horrible fish mutations. There is still dirt and water, though both terribly fouled, but there seem to be a diminishing number of trees. It seems to mostly be very hot out, while the ground is boggy almost everywhere. I gather there is a food shortage. There are characters in this story. I guess Khristen is the main character, as we follow her along throughout the novel from her childhood to ?probably? around her late teens -- I had a lot of trouble grasping the passage of time in the book. There is a strand throughout the story about Khristen dying/after dying, before being born/being born, living/not living. There is a boy named Jeffrey, who oddly is a judge "with seniority" at the age of 10. There's a fellow -- unnamed at the beginning of the book, but PeterPaul then Nolo at the end of the book -- he babysits Khristen at a pivotal moment in the story. And there are a bunch of ailing oldsters: Julian, Lola, James, Gordon, Foxy, Hector, Grayson, Scarlett, Honey, Tom; they all show up for a minute and tell something of their own lives. The book is divided into three parts. In part I is Khristen's childhood and the time she spends at a reclusive boarding school. In part II, Khristen lives at a defunct resort with the oldsters, until everyone has to leave for unexplained reasons. In part III, Khristen is in some town not far away where she reencounters the boy-judge Jeffrey, and there is some sort of intersection with the babysitter PeterPaul/Nolo. I think this is supposed to be about how the older generation has destroyed our planet and left the kids on their own to figure out what to do about it. But boy howdy, to me this novel is both oblique and opaque.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kim McGee

    Oh, what a strange trip I'm on. Harrow's mom feels that Harrow has been marked for greatness because she died as an infant and was brought back. Harrow of course doesn't remember any of this nor can she share any prophetic wisdom from the other side. Sent to a strange philosophical boarding school before her mother abandons her she then finds herself at a dilapidated resort on a death spiral from an apocalyptic environmental event. The lake resort is filled mainly with elderly people on death's Oh, what a strange trip I'm on. Harrow's mom feels that Harrow has been marked for greatness because she died as an infant and was brought back. Harrow of course doesn't remember any of this nor can she share any prophetic wisdom from the other side. Sent to a strange philosophical boarding school before her mother abandons her she then finds herself at a dilapidated resort on a death spiral from an apocalyptic environmental event. The lake resort is filled mainly with elderly people on death's door but Harrow does make friends with a young boy there with his mother. This is one of those books that makes me feel like much of the hidden meaning is going over my head. It is a sad depiction of what may happen because of putting our heads in the sand over climate change. There is no easy genre to put this one in nor should it be dismissed as just apocalyptic/horror - it is simply like nothing I have read before. My thanks to the publisher for the advance copy.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer White

    This is a hard review to write. The story was superficial at best. There was a lot of verbiage that meant nothing at all. I think the characters were in a type of purgatory but who knows. The story made little sense. Very disappointing. Got this book as a Goodreads giveaway.

  22. 5 out of 5

    meg

    This book was surprising to me. First off, I think the synopsis accurately described the plot of the book. I just don’t think it describes how we are going to get there. Joy Williams has what I will call very literary and advanced writing and I wasn’t ready for it. The way Williams jumps through dialogue is extremely thought provoking and infuriating. I would say (without really knowing) the purpose of her writing style is to challenge the dynamic of the conversation and expose an underlying tone This book was surprising to me. First off, I think the synopsis accurately described the plot of the book. I just don’t think it describes how we are going to get there. Joy Williams has what I will call very literary and advanced writing and I wasn’t ready for it. The way Williams jumps through dialogue is extremely thought provoking and infuriating. I would say (without really knowing) the purpose of her writing style is to challenge the dynamic of the conversation and expose an underlying tone. For instance, characters might be having a deep conversation and someone will say something shallow and unmoving to unnerve you (that could be completely wrong, but it how I felt while reading). For me, this story line was interesting and a good idea. I was infuriated by Khristen’s mom and confused by the chain of thoughts many of the characters had. I left the book still wondering who was mentally sane and who wasn’t. I do wish you developed more of a deeper relationship with some of the characters throughout the book. As far as the writing style, I just wasn’t ready for it. I think this one needs a lot of time given to it to breakdown and analyze. If you have read Williams past work, you will love this one. The story is all there and very good. Thank you so much to Knopf for giving me a chance to read this arc!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jami

    Khristen was a baby who died for a short time and then came back. At least, that is what her mother tells her, and is the reason why she believes Khristen to be gifted, possessing a sort of “other-worldly” knowledge. She is sent off to a boarding school for children like her. While there, the rest of the world sort of crumbles. From then on, Khristen and others navigate the meaning in what is left. This one is peculiar. Very smart. Controlled chaos. You’re never entirely sure of what’s going on. Khristen was a baby who died for a short time and then came back. At least, that is what her mother tells her, and is the reason why she believes Khristen to be gifted, possessing a sort of “other-worldly” knowledge. She is sent off to a boarding school for children like her. While there, the rest of the world sort of crumbles. From then on, Khristen and others navigate the meaning in what is left. This one is peculiar. Very smart. Controlled chaos. You’re never entirely sure of what’s going on. You don’t really connect to any of the characters. It worked for me, because it set this apocalyptic/dystopian setting nicely. The story is sort of about total ecological destruction and the collapse of modern society, except that it’s modern society that seemed to collapse itself. It’s never really spelled out, and it isn’t preachy. It was… intriguing. I thought I was reasonably intelligent up until I read this book. There are quite a few things I had to look up to understand what was going on. If you like neat stories that are tied up and delivered in a nice bow, this one isn’t for you. If you’re a fan of Brave New World or Fahrenheit 451, I’d say there’s a pretty good chance you would enjoy this one. It’s only around 200 pages so you’d think it would be a quick read, but no, every word on each page matters. This book is complex but somehow also minimalistic. I’m having a lot of difficulty in reviewing. It’s not like anything I’ve ever read before. I must admit, I’m a bit lost in thought. Please read this and then message me so we can process. Thank you @aaknopf for the #gifted copy

  24. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    4.5. I found this book by almost accident. I love Joy Williams, and was so excited to see her first novel in 21 years hit the shelves. You can see her playing with the same preoccupations of her last novel, The Quick and the Dead (which I’m convinced is one of the best books ever written by a human being): environmental catastrophe, God, youth in ruins, plucky child prodigies, and the establishment of a new society. It feels relevant in 2021, just as QandTD did in 2000. Still, I think it’s missi 4.5. I found this book by almost accident. I love Joy Williams, and was so excited to see her first novel in 21 years hit the shelves. You can see her playing with the same preoccupations of her last novel, The Quick and the Dead (which I’m convinced is one of the best books ever written by a human being): environmental catastrophe, God, youth in ruins, plucky child prodigies, and the establishment of a new society. It feels relevant in 2021, just as QandTD did in 2000. Still, I think it’s missing something. I think the characters don’t sizzle the way they did in her last book, but I think I’ll come to love it more on a re-read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kyle

    Joy Williams’s bend into the absurd is, in this book, so total, that one cheers when the climax of the novel is a lengthy discussion between Khristen and Jeffrey about Kafka’s story (and accompanying fragment), “The Hunter Gracchus.” Full review on Chicago Review of Books: https://chireviewofbooks.com/2021/09/... Joy Williams’s bend into the absurd is, in this book, so total, that one cheers when the climax of the novel is a lengthy discussion between Khristen and Jeffrey about Kafka’s story (and accompanying fragment), “The Hunter Gracchus.” Full review on Chicago Review of Books: https://chireviewofbooks.com/2021/09/...

  26. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    I’m not smart enough or the book makes no sense. Absurdism is not for me.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Broadwell

    [Saving comments for the Literary Fiction discussion]

  28. 5 out of 5

    Easton Smith

    2.5 rounded up. I’ve come back to Joy Williams several times, hoping to find the strange animal wildness of the Changeling, but I’m always left a bit disappointed. For all its clever quips and philosophical one liners this book never comes together. It lacks any real narrative arc or drive, and even with all my postmodern sympathy engaged it kind of drags. One of the central problems is that all of the characters have the same apathetic, detached affect, whether they be 10 year old boys or old e 2.5 rounded up. I’ve come back to Joy Williams several times, hoping to find the strange animal wildness of the Changeling, but I’m always left a bit disappointed. For all its clever quips and philosophical one liners this book never comes together. It lacks any real narrative arc or drive, and even with all my postmodern sympathy engaged it kind of drags. One of the central problems is that all of the characters have the same apathetic, detached affect, whether they be 10 year old boys or old environmental radicals or bored housemothers. There’s still plenty of brilliance to find in Williams’ prose, but I eventually lost patience for the quest.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Bob Wake

    A worthy addition to the genre of apocalyptic literary fiction. Joy Williams’s Harrow is no less nihilistic than Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but much, much funnier. A train ride crowded with pompous sociologists on holiday is as zany as Preston Sturges. A chaotic bowling alley birthday party evokes the Coen Brothers. Like Pynchon or Tokarczuk, Joy Williams depicts alienation as a kind of absurd phantasmagorical quest. Add eco-terrorism and an epigrammatic flavor similar to the Kafkaesque fables A worthy addition to the genre of apocalyptic literary fiction. Joy Williams’s Harrow is no less nihilistic than Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but much, much funnier. A train ride crowded with pompous sociologists on holiday is as zany as Preston Sturges. A chaotic bowling alley birthday party evokes the Coen Brothers. Like Pynchon or Tokarczuk, Joy Williams depicts alienation as a kind of absurd phantasmagorical quest. Add eco-terrorism and an epigrammatic flavor similar to the Kafkaesque fables in her collection, Ninety-nine Stories of God. (It’s no surprise that Kafka is name-checked and glossed at some length in Harrow.) An idiosyncratic near-masterpiece.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    This is another dystopian novel, describing post apocalyptic environmental collapse. I think I’m too concerned about the true existential crisis we are in to want to get into a novel about it, though. But it’s just too nebulous; the plot and characters are like a fog that never really materialize. The author circled around the thought of characters and plot but never got there. When it did it read too much like McCarthy’s The Road and I had to backtrack to remind myself it isn’t that novel. I co This is another dystopian novel, describing post apocalyptic environmental collapse. I think I’m too concerned about the true existential crisis we are in to want to get into a novel about it, though. But it’s just too nebulous; the plot and characters are like a fog that never really materialize. The author circled around the thought of characters and plot but never got there. When it did it read too much like McCarthy’s The Road and I had to backtrack to remind myself it isn’t that novel. I couldn’t describe this to anyone. Instead it’s just nuance and idea.

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