On April 3, The Paris Review will honor Joy Williams with the Hadada Award for lifetime achievement at our annual gala, the Spring Revel. In anticipation, we’ve asked the renowned artist Brad Holland to illustrate five stories from her 2013 collection, Ninety-Nine Stories of God. One story and illustration will appear each morning this week.
A noted humanist was invited to take part in a discussion about the dangers and opportunities that would arise if intelligent life forms on other planets were discovered. His remarks, though no one disagreed with them, became so heated that the producers later, in light of what had happened, decided to edit him out of the program.
There was consensus that discovering intelligent life forms on other planets was probable and even essential to the human endeavor, but much of the conversation concerned whether any life form discovered would hold a candle to human intelligence and creativity.
The humanist, who was also a noted scholar, argued that nothing could be discovered that could write a symphony, as so many of our brilliant composers had done, or be capable of appreciating the symphony. The ability to appreciate the symphony seemed to him quite as important as the actual composition of it.
The humanist/scholar became quite emotional in conceiving of the world devoid of human beings, which was a possibility brought on by one disaster or another, due, it must be said, to our own actions. This would be the worst thing he could imagine—worlds devoid of human beings, even if these worlds were populated by other intelligent and enterprising life forms.
After the taping, the humanist/scholar, whose name was Charles Thaxter Ormand, the acronym of which, in the ever-evolving and vibrant field of text messaging, would be check this out, retired for lunch to one of the city’s many small, fine restaurants. He ordered that day’s special. When it was brought to him, whole and beautifully prepared and presented, he took a moment to study it before consuming it.
To his discomfort, he detected from the plate the faint sound of the most beautiful music. It was exquisite, joyous yet heartbreaking, a delicate furling of gratitude and praise gradually diminishing, then gone.
Horrified, he continued to look at the speckled trout that, according to the waiter, had been taken mere hours before from its mountain stream. Then, with a cry, he rushed into the kitchen, where he attacked both the waiter and the chef with a variety of heavy utensils before he was subdued and taken away for observation at the nearest psychiatric facility. His ravings about the trout being no more appreciated than the ravings of any of the other lunatics there.
From Ninety-Nine Stories of God, by Joy Williams. Reprinted with permission from Tin House Books.