The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories by Joy Williams
There isn't enough writing about Joy Williams, and there isn't enough writing by Joy Williams. A reader-fan since the 2004 publication of her third collection, Honored Guest, I have sought out every shred of essay on her or fiction by her I could Google, a very annoying process as there's a Christian singer-songwriter, formerly of the duo The Civil Wars named Joy Williams. Reading and rereading her, I am often fascinated by the elements Williams chooses to hollow out or efface entirely -- here a character's motive, there a marker of the passage of time -- as much as I'm interested in what she chooses to leave in, or emphasize, or let hang out (for example, oddly and at times comically pretentious oracular dialogue spoken by ordinary people, or the sudden intrusion of oblique epiphany arriving in her signature Doppler-like effect in which the narrative pitch will shift suddenly to the true-to-life after the hair-raising approach of a complication, then go low and burbly as the drama recedes and dissipates on a Beckettian-stripped story-scape). So much of what goes on in a Joy Williams story happens apart from her main characters' personal concerns. There is a lot of background noise and external action giving rise to apparently zero resolution.
I have no idea if, while teaching creative writing workshops, Joy Williams asks her students to spell out "what's at stake." But I know that while reading her I don't think about "what's at stake" for her characters. I think what's at stake in Joy Williams is submerged, left up to a reader to chew over. Is she a Platonist? If so, her views of the ideal sphere come in the form of vulnerable nature: trees and bodies of water and animals; faithful, earnest, quite often doomed dogs. In the imperfect, wind-blown settings she's created and populated, she's like the Demiurge who molded Gnostic Christendom: Jehovah, our world's craftsman, master enough to deceive us yet not the true God whose spark we own and hold buried deep in ourselves. It's these sparks of divinity -- our birthright -- which we dimly expect in Joy Williams but that are as elusive as salvation. Through poker-face assertions of near-ecclesiastical majesty (refrains undercut by her cosmically funny next lines), readers head-scratch over whatever spiritual or philosophical truth each vessel of offbeat language contains. We rarely leave a Joy Williams story without feeling touched by an an ethereal paw -- by which I mean the hand guiding or not guiding events is alien, seemingly not anthropomorphic, and whose logos is a word-amalgam continuously and dazzlingly refreshed by countless thought-units that separately fall mute or echo beatifically, but together form, in almost every case, a ragged, wheezy, whistling hymn to the universal mystery of being a human. I read Joy Williams not because I believe or want to believe but because with her I'm briefly willing to.
In the meantime there is the fallen world, the kingdom of the doomer-molder-creator, and this is the site of Joy Williams's odd efforts and obvious delight. Never happier on the page than when she's chanced upon the dried-up bones of a dramatic situation that may contain a speck of revelatory marrow, she will give us as much of the moral DNA she deems aesthetically apt. The aridness of the poisoned, cluttered cultural desert inhabited by her characters makes for inspired kindling of egos seemingly hell-bent on extinction. On the surface she's identifiably a realist, or at least as much as Flannery O'Connor was. Unlike in Beckett, her terrain feels familiar, not post-apocalyptic. But turn the microscope's focus wheel and you'll see that she's similarly absurdist, in thrall to paradox. She stares back at us like the author of a koan, and we wait for her to smile:
Donna came as a visitor in her long black coat. It was spring but still cool, and she never wore light colors, she was no buttercup. She was visiting her friend Cynthia, who was in Pond House for depression. Donna never had a drink before she visited Cynthia. She shunned her habitual excesses and arrived sober and aware, with an exquisite sinking feeling.
This is later Joy Williams, from "The Visiting Privilege," title piece of her New and Collected Stories. Notice the chain of details simply linked -- compound sentences, spare of subordinate conjunctions and prepositional phrases, the occasional comma splice. There is a Biblical quality to Williams I can only call hypnotic. No elaborate Jamesian macaronis or would-be Proustianisms. Joy Williams is weaving from whole, coarse cloth, but the effect of the material is sublime, as in Homer or the Gospels. And yet she feels modern without relying on stream-of-consciousness or wordplay.
In Williams's early story "The Lover," from her first collection, Taking Care, a twenty-five-year-old mother and recent divorcée known only as "the girl" goes through her days recalling her marriage while hardly seeming to notice her child. It's an upending of the straightforward conflict-complication-resolution narrative. We don't know if the girl is experiencing any conflict other than languid longing, her disparate memories worryingly daubed in. She remembers being wheeled out after childbirth, and her ex -- as though a hoary-locked Old Testament patriarch -- telling her, "Now you are going to have to learn how to love something, you wicked woman."
Who besides TV preachers and old ladies accuse others of "wickedness"?
So much compressed, abstrusely opening-out drama, as usual in Williams, by the end of her first paragraph. Realistic fiction traditionally invites the subtlety of the banal, the dialogue of indirection or the declaration of fact and feeling, more than mythic confrontation. The trauma of this moment would certainly help explain the girl's listlessness and, as it turns out, near-amnesia. But are we in a Nixon-era apartment complex or on a circle of purgatory? We are in a purgatory of the girl's making, it would seem, but we still have the rest of the story to go, and it's up to Joy Williams in her prestidigitations to distract and redirect us through sequences that veer through time and wobble on the page. She front-loads her openers with icy hard-shaken cocktails of the ordinary and the oratory. She gets us tipsy; morally we're stunned and we keep reading, letting the events of the unmarked days slide past as we keep imbibing in the throes of enchantment. We wait for signs, taught by high school English teachers to participate in a literary Easter egg hunt.
The tone can be declaratively dry:
It is difficult for her to believe he said such a thing.
We snatch for readily parsed symbolisms but are rebuffed. In "The Lover," Williams's device, or dramatically deflating foil, is Action Line, a recurring trope that may or may not help us understand the girl's psychology:
The girl does not sleep well and recently has acquired the habit of listening all night to the radio. It is an old, not very good radio and at night she can only get one station. From midnight until four she listens to Action Line. People call the station and make comments on the world and their community and they ask questions. Music is played and a brand of beef and beans is advertised. A woman calls up and says, "Could you tell me why the filling in my lemon meringue pie is runny?" These people have obscene materials in their mailboxes. They want to know where they can purchase small flags suitable for waving on Armed Forces Day. There is a man on the air who answers these questions right away. Another woman calls. She says, "Can you get us a report on the progress of the collection of the Betty Crocker coupons for the lung machine?" The man can and does. He answers the woman's question. Astonishingly, he complies with her request. The girl thinks such a talent is bleak and wonderful. She thinks this man can help her.
"Bleak and wonderful." A swing in and out of the passive: "Music is played and a brand of beef and beans is advertised." Also: how does the girl think Answer Man could help her?
The girl wants to be in love.
(Really? How would this love look to her? And ultimately do we ever really learn?)
Her face is thin with the thinness of a failed lover. It is so difficult! Love is concentration, she feels, but she can remember nothing. She tries to recollect two things a day. In the morning with her coffee, she tries to remember, and in the evening, with her first bourbon and water, she tries to remember as well. She has been trying to remember the birth of her child now for several days. Nothing returns to her. Life is so intrusive! Everyone was talking. There was too much conversation! The doctor was above her, waiting for the pains. "No, I still can't play tennis," the doctor said. "I haven't been able to play for two months. I have spurs on both heels and it's just about wrecked our marriage. Air-conditioning and concrete floors is what does it. Murder on your feet." A few minutes later, the nurse had said, "Isn't it wonderful to work with Teflon? I mean for these arterial repairs? I just love it."
The pile-ups of things and thoughts, the comma choices, the sinfully rich and expressive use of exclamation points. We're vividly plunged into the dully demotic of the everyday. But if Williams opens with her woozily distorting lens on a wide vista, she's zeroing in on the personal, subjective experience into which the objective leaks. And it's never boring. FOMO (the "fear of missing out") is a term coined in the age of digital distraction. But the Internet and the deceptive connectivity afforded by our picture-taking phones was anticipated in the thirties by Dos Passos in his headline-bright, headachy, title-smeared trilogy. This impulse was dialed down over the succeeding decades, once the flashy excitement of the technique had subsided for jaded readers, but still made faint reappearances in, say, Wise Blood. From Dos Passos on, wasn't it a sign (as well as modernist opportunity) that our attention spans were already being challenged by the new non-print media? From the beginning, Williams has been beholden to the impulse to pull us in at the very outset, at work on a peculiarly contemporary American brand of defamiliarization. She concocts a proprietary blend that always feels germane, always tastes like now -- even fifty years after her first little-magazine story publication -- and it comes to us in both technique and theme.
Part of the mixology for me is the sensation of being disoriented, of understanding that at one instant I'm in the head of someone I might know -- and in the next realizing, at a dreamy lag, that I'm being led through a skilled tale that resists the luxury of interpretation. In the opening of "The Little Winter" from her second collection Escapes, she stirs all the essential elements of her seventeen-page story into the first few sips (a super-cooled distillate of pure bitter botanicals):
She was in the airport, waiting for her flight to be called, when a woman came to a phone near her chair. The woman stood there, dialing, and after a while began talking in a flat, aggrieved voice. Gloria couldn't hear everything by any means, but she did hear her say, "If anything happens to this plane, I hope you'll be satisfied." The woman spoke monotonously and without mercy. She was tall and disheveled and looked the very picture of someone who recently had ceased to be cherished. Nevertheless, she was still being mollified on the other end. Gloria heard with astonishing clarity the part about the plane being repeated several times. The woman then slammed down the receiver and boarded Gloria's flight, flinging herself down in a first-class seat. Gloria proceeded to the rear and sat quietly, thinking that every person is on the brink of eternity every moment, that the means of leaving this world are innumerable and often inconceivable. She thought in this manner for a while, then ordered a drink.
(That unpredictably, fleetingly philosophical vision supplanted by obliterative habit.)
It's a trademark of Williams that she modulates her language between the colloquial and the Latinate ("slammed down the receiver" then, in the next sentence, "proceeded to the rear") -- not alighting on either mode for long but maintaining a constant flux in diction. Too, her lack of contractions -- why "did not" instead of "didn't" when we're so clearly in a close third-person? -- keeps us at a quasi-formal, therapeutic distance that destabilizes the possibility of interpretation.
The plane pushed through the sky and the drink made her think of how, as a child, she had enjoyed chewing on the collars of her dresses. The first drink of the day did not always bring this to mind, but frequently it did. Then she began thinking of the desert she was leaving behind and how much she liked it. Once she had liked the sea and felt she could not live without it, but now she missed it almost not at all.
A dissembling glance away, another memory, machine-fire transitions all within the same paragraph, a rapid iris-out, and then on to the next thing. It shouldn't work. We're so used to the classically orchestrated smoothness of her contemporaries and their nineteenth-century forebears that the uncanniness of her headlong associations suggests a phrase-collage more than traditional storytelling, with a surface that would fracture if not unified by an overall tonal control we could hardly articulate after looking away. The eye twitches scanning the surface. There is wholeness, in the deadpan resonance of an expositional item that's at least as important as a quick breathless solipsism. Forward action, obscure motive, blinking resolve -- all crowd together in a few lines:
At the airport, Gloria rented a car. She decided to drive just outside Jean's town and check in to a motel. Jean was a talker. A day with Jean would be enough. A day and a night would be too much. Just outside Jean's town was a monastery where the monks raised dogs. Maybe she would find her dog there tomorrow. She would go over to the monastery early in the morning and spend the rest of the day with Jean. But that was it. Other than that, there wasn't much of a plan.
Three pages into "The Little Winter," understanding that we are on a journey with Gloria but one without apparent purpose (yet now knowing that Gloria is dying), our first dialogue is a motel-room phone conversation with her friend that's as dramatically obscuring as it is revealing:
Gloria made herself an iceless drink in a paper cup and called Jean.
"I can't wait to see you," Jean said. "How are you?"
"I'm all right," Gloria said.
"Really," Gloria said.
"I can't wait to see you," Jean said. "I've had the most god-awful time. I know it's silly."
"How is Gwendal doing?"
"She never liked Chuckie anyway. She's Luke's, you know. But she's not a bit like Luke. You know Gwendal."
Gloria barely remembered the child, who would be almost ten by now. She sipped from the paper cup and looked through the screen at the dog, who was gazing over the ruined golf course to the valley beyond.
"I don't know how I manage to pick them," Jean was saying. She was talking about the last one.
"I'll be there by lunch tomorrow," Gloria said.
"Not until then! Well, we'll bring some lunch over to Bill's, and eat with him. You haven't met him, have you? I want you to meet him."
The uneasy border between childhood and majority is a Williams mainstay, and in "The Little Winter" we glimpse the adult Gloria through the girl, Gwendal, who speaks observantly, and prompts Gloria to respond defensively, all at once becoming brattier than little Gwendal:
There was something truly terrifying about girls on the verge of puberty, Gloria thought. She laughed.
"You drink too much," Gwendal said. "You're always drinking something."
This hurt Gloria's feelings. "I'm dying," she said. "I have a brain tumor. I can do what I want."
"If you're dying you can do anything you want?" Gwendal said. "I didn't know that. That's a new one. So there are compensations."
Gloria couldn't believe she'd told Gwendal she was dying. "You're fat," she said glumly.
Gwendal ignored this. She wasn't all that fat. Somewhat fat, perhaps, but not grotesquely so.
"Oh, to hell with it," Gloria said. "You want me to stop drinking, I'll stop drinking."
"It doesn't matter to me," Gwendal said.
Gloria's mouth trembled. I'm drunk, she thought.
"Some simple pleasures are just a bit too simple, you know," Gwendal said.
Throughout her oeuvre, drink is an important theme, her alkahest acting as the universal solvent converting the base metal of reality into metaphysical gold. But by her third collection, Honored Guest, Williams had begun questioning its efficacy as a regular narrative catalyst. The reagent she really wanted was death -- not a new thing, as the above passages prove, just now in the service of a deepened self-knowledge. (Put one way, the characters in Honored Guest have been expelled as guests from the Garden and released into bemused lives of wandering through a simulacrum of a garden, nature ruined by us because our own natures are broken.) Divorce was thematically exhausted by the eighties, after the umpteenth annual Updike novel of domesticity. Williams had never dwelled on the causes of the breakups that abandoned her women to single motherhood -- maybe knowing we could fill in the blanks with some of our own good reasons -- yet by now the absentee father had become a matter-of-fact memory, perhaps an expediency:
When Lenore died, Helen would go down to Florida and live with her father. "I've never had the slightest desire to visit Florida," Lenore said. "You can have it."
At the beginning death was giving them the opportunity to be interesting. This was something special. There was only one crack at this. But then they lost sight of it somehow. It became a lesser thing, more terrible. Its meaning crumbled. They began waiting for it. Terrible, terrible. Lenore had friends but they called now, they didn't come over so much. "Don't come over," Lenore would tell them, "it wears me out." Little things started to go wrong with the house, leaks and lights. The bulb in the kitchen would flutter when the water was turned on. Helen grew fat for some reason. The dog, their dog, began to change. He grew shy. "Do you think he's acting funny," Lenore asked Helen.
She did not tell Helen that the dog had begun growling at her. It was a secret growl; he never did it in front of anyone else. He had taken to carrying one of her slippers around with him. He was almost never without it. He cherished her slipper.
"Do you remember when I put Grecian Formula on his muzzle because he turned gray so young?" Lenore said. "The things I used to do. The way I spent my time."
But now she did not know what to do with time at all. It seemed more expectant than ever. One couldn't satisfy it, one could never do enough for it.
She was so uneasy.
Lenore had a dream in which she wasn't dying at all. Someone else had died. People had told her this over and over again. And now they were getting tired of reminding her, impatient.
It is a bizarre but remarkably workable stylistic feature of Joy Williams, and always has been, that her narratives can blend in the oneiric lives of her characters while at the same time describing their waking lives, which are curiously both mundane and twitching with uncertainty. Generally in fiction, the dream is a red pointed-finger sign underscoring the author's intentions, the message in case we missed it. We'd be hard-pressed to find the Freudian or psychologically pertinent, story-wise, in dreams described in anything by Williams. A dream, far from rounding out a storyline's progress, merely adds dark decoration to her characters' other preoccupations:
She had a dream of eating bread and dying. Two large loaves. Pounds of it, still warm from the oven. She ate it all, she was so hungry, starving! But then she died. It was the bread. It was too hot, was the explanation. There were people in her room but she was not among them.
(Whose explanation? Is she dying from life's surfeit? Is the bread a Christian symbol?)
When she woke, she could feel the hot, gummy almost liquid bread in her throat, scalding it. She lay in bed on her side, her dark eyes open. It was four o'clock in the morning. She swung her legs to the floor. The dog growled at her. He slept in her room with her slipper but he growled as she went past him. Sometimes self-pity would rise within her and she would stare at the dog, tears in her eyes, listening to him growl. The more she stared, the more sustained was his soft growl.
She had a dream about a tattoo. This was a pleasant dream. She was walking away and she had the most beautiful tattoo covering her shoulders and back, even the backs of her legs. It was unspeakably fine.
Helen had a dream that her mother wanted a tattoo.
A restless shift of point of view, vouchsafed by a series of dreams, visually sumptuous in one sense but enticingly vague: the tattoo Lenore dreams about is not described, except insofar as it covers her back, "even the backs of her legs," and is "unspeakably fine."
In the morning Lenore said, "Would you get a tattoo with me? We could do this together. I don't think it's creepy," she added. "I think you'll be glad later. A pretty one, just small somewhere. What do you think?" The more she considered it, the more it seemed the perfect thing to do. What else could be done? She'd already given Helen her wedding ring.
Williams's girls, often previously prophetically gifted ("From the mouths of babes..."), by Honored Guest have grown into adolescents and college-age women and are a good deal less unearthly-clever like Pearl in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. We sort of recognize them:
She had been having a rough time of it and thought about suicide sometimes, but suicide was so corny in the eleventh grade and you had to be careful about this because two of her classmates had committed suicide the year before and between them they left twenty-four suicide notes and had become just a joke. They had left the notes everywhere and they were full of misspellings and pretensions. Theirs had been a false show. Then this year a girl had taken an overdose of Tylenol, which of course did nothing at all, but word of it got out and when she came back to school her locker had been broken into and was jammed full of Tylenol. Like, you moron. Under the circumstances, it was amazing that Helen thought of suicide at all. It was seriously not cool. You only made a fool of yourself. And the parents of these people were mocked too. They were considered to be suicide-enhancing, evil and weak, and they were ignored and barely tolerated. This was a small town. Helen didn't want to make life any harder on her mother than it already was.
Her mother was dying and she wanted to die at home, which Helen could understand, she understood it perfectly, she'd say, but actually she understood it less well than that and it had become clear it wasn't even what needed to be understood. Nothing needed to be understood.
Suicides, freak accidents, a slow succumbing to terminal disease, death by natural causes, and exits otherwise unexplained -- the stories in Honored Guest take mortality calmly and frankly and as a matter of course, even when the dying or surviving trapped in their narratives are visibly disturbed by its fierce, baffling reach. In each case there's cause to laugh or smile or approvingly nod at a phrase or demurral, at a gesture that provides a weirdly unsettling relief or perspective:
Louise would have preferred anything to the dog, right down to the barbells. Nothing at all would have pleased her even more. It was believed that the animal had been witness to the suicide. The dog had either seen the enactment or come into the room shortly afterward. He might have been in the kitchen eating his chow or he might have been on the porch, taking in the entire performance. He was a quiet, medium-size dog. He wasn't the kind who would have run for help. He wasn't one of those dogs who would have attempted to prevent the removal of the body from the house.
(The jaunty "chow," the jocular "taking in the entire performance.")
This is from "Substance," about a litany of unspectacular bequests to a group of loosely assembled friends who in its desultory aftermath get together, eat, drink, and talk about a suicide:
Again, Louise marveled at her friend's way of phrasing things. To take your own life was to take control of it, to take possession of it, to give it shape by occupying it. But Elliott's life still had no shape, even though it had been completed.
This authorial question mark about life and death has remained throughout her oeuvre but you could say that by the time we come to the new stories in the last section of this volume, even Joy Williams is at odds about what to do with death. In these thirteen stories, the bodies pile up.
Assassination attempts gone awry, terrorism, unreported involuntary manslaughter, and prodigious roadkill: Williams has moved from using death in a witty and almost drawing-room-comedy way to reporting, in her off-kilter, psychologically bewildered fashion, the nightly news and its hysterical social-media spin-off -- and finally her patented humor stutters, grows quieter. It's the terrible, post-Bush times, I deem. She's wiser, like us, less given to game irony.
To my knowledge her story "Brass" is her first attempt to portray real-life events (I won't spoil the show), serpentining into an abomination by way of the mind of the father of a killer:
Another night, I come out of my shop in the garage for supper and he appears without a hair on his head. Not on his arms either.
Jesus, I say. What have you done now?
This is how you foil the drug testers, he says.
You aren't ingesting drugs, are you, I ask.
Nah, he says. It's just unconstitutional to take a sample from a man's head, from a hair. I'm protesting the unconstitutionality of it.
As a little kid when he wanted to curse but didn't dare or probably didn't even know how, he'd say, "Babies!" It was pretty damn cute. "Oh, babies!" he'd say. I don't know where he got that from.
She can still find the humor in things, but it's so spare. A writer looking at the world and the America that helped screw it up can only turn away in winces with a wrinkled brow.
Her "Revenant" is Salteresque, matching James Salter's rueful matter-of-factness with a touch of glamor -- the glamor in this case coming from the old gentlemen's white-shoe universe of publishing the way it used to be done. As it should be, "Revenant" is about death:
One of the senior editors seemed interested in his progress, a man named Franklin Woolf, but everyone called him Loup. He was erudite and viciously funny. You want to be the last to leave the room when he's in it, one of the other junior editors warned Cliff, though he was eager to learn and knew he could learn a lot from him. Loup arranged to have him move into the Midtown writing studio of one of the house's venerable authors, who had relocated temporarily to Mexico. It was full of books and had good light and a kitchen, and the bathroom was his alone. It was a far better arrangement than the brownstone. The author was working on a "volcano" of a book but everyone knew he had stopped writing, that he'd lost his nerve. Nobody went to Mexico anymore to write books. The man was finished.
So much of the purity of these new stories has to do with their candor, their newish-age refusal to court misapprehension or tolerate the current mode of cowing to the academic fashion of trigger warnings. Our lives are full of violence and injustice, and they understand that. These stories understand "privilege" and deal with it, but don't belabor the point with political speech. Joy Williams has always been too lilting to make speeches. The sermons are merely contextual.
The reach of Williams's imagination, not to mention compassion, is utter. By now we do understand that Joy Williams is worried about the environment (read her book of essays called Ill Nature). But as a fiction writer she's also concerned with humanity. That is one of her great gifts, bestowed by creative grace. At this point she can write about anyone, even a mysterious old man who's lived well but who gives up everything in his wealth and material comfort to be a handyman, and who picks up animals killed on the road and gives them a proper burial. He's aware of his age, but wants something meaningful, and yet is still given to life's verities:
He could no longer work as he once had. Sometimes, he couldn't catch his breath and at those times he would think, You're my breath, you belong to me. We have to work together. You need me too, he'd address his breath. But oddly, he didn't really believe his breath belonged to him. It was a strange thought that didn't trouble him particularly.
The task of a great writer, in the end, is empathy. She has a fresh, Whitmanian poetry. It includes everyone, even the privileged. But that doesn't mean she can't be merciless about them.
My favorite of the new stories is "The Girls," maybe because I'm gay. I have a prejudice toward fiction that is lightly satirical yet nonetheless inclusive of the so-called marginal. In this case, a central figure is Father Snow, an Episcopal minister whose lover and vestment-ironer just died:
The priest spent most of his time in the garden wearing only a red banana sling, his flabby body turning a magnificent somber brown. The girls were certain their parents regretted inviting him, for he was not at all amusing, the way he frequently could be, in the pulpit.
In "The Girls," Williams's "girls" are no longer girls but a pair of sisters of thirty-one and thirty-three, complete menaces. Poised as our protagonists, they are nothing but trouble:
Father Snow was stirring martinis. He wore a jacket and tie. Arleen was wearing...something dreadful. The drinks in their crystal glasses were passed around. Father Snow liked to offer a small prayer before the cocktail hour began. To the girls it was merely one of his excruciatingly annoying habits. Prayer is a means of getting rid of some of our own ignorance about ourselves, Father Snow had always said. Mommy and Daddy and Arleen bowed their heads. The girls, as they always did, looked around the room. At the mirrors, the embroidered footstool, the good Chinese rug, the little brass clocks, the wallpaper of madder rose. They adored it, all this was theirs.
The spiritual and the finite, all of this is ours in Joy Williams.
The finest writers in North America going now are women. I believe this is because they can take nothing for granted, aren't allowed to dump their research notes into their text and make something big out of something that should be compact. That's how I learned it and I'm sticking to my story.
The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories by Joy Williams
Alfred A. Knopf