cover image Ill Nature: Rants and Reflections on Humanity and Other Animals

Ill Nature: Rants and Reflections on Humanity and Other Animals

Joy Williams. Lyons Press, $24.95 (228pp) ISBN 978-1-58574-187-8

Sharp, sarcastic and uncompromising, Williams tackles a host of controversial subjects in this collection of 19 impassioned essays dealing mostly with humans' abuses of the natural world. Two of the collection's strongest essays deal with animal rights: ""The Killing Game,"" an antihunting essay first published, to great furor, in Esquire, and ""The Animal People,"" which casts a harsh eye on the agricultural, medical and environmental establishments for their treatment of animals. Other pieces note the diminished state of African wildlife (""Safariland""), the increasing number of babies born in the United States despite the threat of overpopulation (""The Case Against Babies"") and the impact of consumer culture on the natural world (""Save the Whales, Screw the Shrimp""). An acclaimed novelist (The Quick and the Dead) and Guggenheim fellow, Williams writes that her essays, unlike her stories, are ""meant to annoy and trouble and polarize""; she terms her own nonfiction style ""unelusive and strident and brashly one-sided."" Readers will likely find all this true. At times, the collection falters under the weight of Williams's anger and moral indignation, and a few essays that are only loosely nature-related (""Sharks and Suicide,"" ""The Electric Chair"" and ""Why I Write"") undermine its momentum. However, her forceful writing and vivid depictions of habitat destruction and animal abuse (""Neverglades,"" ""Wildebeest"") make for compelling reading. Williams believes that the ""ecological crisis"" facing us is essentially a ""moral issue,"" one caused by ""culture and character, and a deep change in personal consciousness is needed."" While it is unlikely that her combative rants will win new converts, some environmentalists may find this book a powerful call to action. (Feb.)