Illustration: Jenny Williams

Women We Read This Week

Lucinda Williams’ “Where the Spirit Meets the Bone: A Memoir” on the Longreads Blog

Nothing satisfies like a Lucinda Williams song. Her words, emanating from her achy soul and propelled—with great will, it sometimes seems—up through her gravelly throat always launch me on a sad, nostalgic bender, sending me adrift into a land of heartache and pain that seems to have no specific source. Whenever I get through a Lucinda Williams kick, I always feel as though I’ve washed up on some distant shore, sodden with emotion—and it always feels so fucking good.

It hadn’t occurred to me that Williams is also a storyteller. This memoir, recorded in her home, (and which was originally published in Radio Silence) details her evolution as a songwriter. Her roots are set in the south, her writing inspired by southern literary figures like Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor. In fact, O’Connor was a mentor of Williams’ poet father, Miller Williams (who has poetry alongside her memoir in the original publication in Radio Silence), and Lucinda remembers visiting O’Connor’s house as a kid, how the curtains would be drawn and no one would be able to go inside until O’Connor was finished writing for the day. She writes:

But for me, Flannery O’Connor was to writing what Robert Johnson was to blues. That might be the best way to say it. There was something about her stuff that was just a little more crooked, a little more weird, a little more out there.

Something a little crooked, a little weird, definitely leaked into Williams’ songwriting. She explains trying to get a deal for her first record (which eventually happened with a European punk label called Rough Trade Records):

Sony in L.A. said I was too country for rock, and Sony in Nashville said I was too rock for country. This is before alternative-country, alternative-rock, Americana, all that stuff. None of that had happened yet. I fell in the cracks.


Pamela Colloff’s “The Witness” in Texas Monthly

It’s hard to choose the most impressive element of Pamela Colloff’s recent profile: the careful but warm detachment she manages from the most sensitive of American subjects, the skill with which she reconstructs more than a decade of a woman’s life and the moral back-and-forth that unfolded over that period, or the way in which she takes her readers on a slalom course between sympathies. In showing one woman’s slow erosion of moral surety she complicates readers’ knee-jerk stances on the evil or necessity of capital punishment, while at the same time illustrating the absurd paradox of an eye for an eye. For example, she writes:

“One of the hardest things for me to see was how often the victim’s family was let down by the experience, by how quick and easy it was,” Michelle said. “They didn’t walk away feeling like they had in any way been made whole.”

Through the experience of one woman – the former head of the public information office for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice – we’re taken inside the witness room, looking into the killing room alternately with the victims’ families or the criminals’ families at the criminals themselves, surprisingly and disconcertingly passive in their final moments. Finishing this piece I was left with the sickening feeling of the impossibility of both justice and retribution. –Sarah

Esther Kaplan’s “Losing Sparta” in Virginia Quarterly Review

In November, 2009, the Sparta, Tennessee lighting fixture factory owned by multinational Philips was named a Best Plant of the year—one of the top ten in America—and won the firm’s Global Lean challenge. In 2010, a Phillips rep drove up, accompanied by a bodyguard with a sidearm, and shut the plant down. This isn’t the first story about the gutting of American industry. But we let these narratives become commonplace, unquestioned at our peril. Kaplan traces the efforts of the community to keep the plant open and turns up extraordinary answers about how little justification Philips had to provide for shutting down one of its most productive facilities.

“Offshoring has simply become a reflex,” she writes. “And if that’s true all the lean manufacturing and just-in-time production and automation and retraining and two-tier pay scales in the world won’t be enough to save American production jobs.” Kaplan is one of our great investigative reporters. Her 2004 book, “With God On Their Side” was already my summer reading–a critical record of Bush-era policies that, ten years later, remains current and essential information. This new piece has the plain grace, rigorous structure and unadorned truth of a Bach cello suite. It lingers. The last paragraph is, in and of itself, a prose poem and a master class.



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