‘George and Susan’ by Joy Williams

Joy Williams is one of those writers who can reconfigure a handful of familiar words into something breathtaking, totally violating and adjusting a perspective you thought was established and pedestrian inside of you. This particular story isn’t in any of her collections, which is partly why I love and chose it. In it the Russian philosopher and mystic George Gurdjieff haunts Susan Sontag’s childhood home. Williams’ study of Gurdjieff’s point of view, as he tries to embody Sontag and understand her origins and essence, is at once so delicate and so crushing you find yourself swept away, utterly without bearings. 

Gurdjieff had made a pilgrimage to the desert, to Tucson, Arizona, where Susan Sontag spent her formative years. G is in love with Susan Sontag. Dead now, sadly, but all the more reason. He’s crazy about her. She hated the desert, but no matter. The desert had her in her formative years. The desert is irreducible and strange and is not merry, it is never merry. Not even the baby roadrunners and javelinas know how to play. It is work, work, work, hopeless living work. 

First published in Tin House 62: Winter Reading, 2014. You can watch a fantastic video of Williams reading it here

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