RARA-AVIS: Williams' Girl Trilogy

From: Jeff Vorzimmer ( jvorzimmer@austin.rr.com)
Date: 13 Aug 2006

Just finished what I call Charles Williams' Girl Trilogy--Hill Girl, Big City Girl and River Girl and thought I'd pass on some observations about them. Although the story lines are unrelated they do share some basic story elements, most important of which is the femmes fatales who bring about death and destruction. Not so much as a result of their own machinations, but because of the feelings of love and hatred they instill in the male characters.

All three novels are set in East Texas. I know there was some speculation about the settings previously on the list, but being here in Texas as I am, I can tell you that they are all Texas place names he mentions. In fact he specifically mentions Dallas, Houston and Galveston by name in the first two novels. Of course, Williams himself was from San Angelo, Texas and was very knowledge about cotton farming. The first two novels are set on cotton farms.

All in all they were good reads--each better than the last so that River Girl is definitely the best of the three, although Big City Girl definitely has its moments that are superior to anything in River Girl. But overall River Girl ranks up there with Hell Hath No Fury, Touch of Death, Nothing in Her Way and Man on the Run. Definitely must-reads for those who like Williams or for Jim Thompson fans who have never read any Williams. Here are some specific thoughts about each novel:

Hill Girl To begin with--not a very accurate title. Obviously chosen by an editor at Gold Medal trying to evoke the idea of hillbillies no doubt. Interestingly enough this, Williams' first novel, is not a crime novel although it has some of the same kind of plot elements he would use again in subsequent novels. He maintains a tension throughout that finally explodes in the last half of the book. A pretty good first novel.

Big City Girl Another unfortunate title. This _is_ a crime novel on par with some of his later novels. It is his first man-on-the-run novel, with some of his best chase scenes. This novel owes a bit to Tobacco Road, particularly the father character who seems to be modeled on Jeeter Lester. In this novel you see the beginning of the Williams irony--those unlucky twists of fate that his characters seemed doomed to suffer novel after novel. Unlike most of the other novels I've read by Williams, this is written in a third-person limited narration.

River Girl Again a title that has little or nothing to do with the novel--in this case
_nothing_ to do with the novel. It doesn't take place on a river--it takes place, in fact, on a long lake--nor does the word "river" ever appear in the text. The main character is a deputy sheriff who reminds me at times of Jim Thompson's Ford. This was the first novel in which Williams uses fictitious place names, but it's obviously set in Texas, more to the southeast than the previous two, which were set in the northeast. The large city to which the protagonist travels is called Bayou City and is obviously Houston.

On to Gulf Coast Girl and Girl Out Back, Jeff

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