Two Girls, Fat anf Thin, by Mary GaitskillYes, that’s what it is. A story about two girls. And they are as they are described in the title. One is fat (Dorothy Never), the other is thin (Justine Shade). But there is a lot more. One is sexually reckless, perhaps borderline promiscuous. The other is socially isolated and seemingly abstinent. That is, if you don’t consider that she is being sexually abused by her father over a period of years, that is. Though both women are survivors of sexual abuse in childhood, each plays out the consequences of that trauma in a radically different way.

The fat girl becomes a follower of Anna Granite, an Ayn Rand-like writer in so many ways that it is quite clear that Mary Gaitskill is aiming at Rand. She finds something in Anna Granite’s movement and philosophy – Definitism – that she has been missing. She becomes a secretary for Granite and a disciple of the movement. She doesn’t know what it is that was missing and found; only that it is there. And she knows that her life has been quite miserable. Somehow the things and relationships she finds in some ways alter her life. At least temporarily.

The thin girl becomes a reporter of sorts. And starts writing a story on Definitism. This brings her into contact with the Fat Girl, as she is now, years later, something of an expert on Definitism. Therefore Justine interviews Dorothy. So now they are two. One wanting to know and the other longing for somebody to be interested in her. Two intensely lonely women.

And as the work on the article about Granite progresses, we follow the life of the two girls. With them, we dive into the abysses. We see, feel and hear the damage done to them and the consequences. We follow their progression thought life. How they close themselves, how they mostly shut the world out and survive by only glancing at it and participating in it in a fractional manner – a small slice at a time. Never fully engaging, withdrawing, keeping their distance.

Her thin arms went around my body, her face pressed against my shoulder. I held her side and cupped her head, careful not to touch her injured back. Her body lay against me like a phrase of music. My muscles were calmed, white flowers bloomed on my heart.

This is a bleak, hard, direct and at times very ugly novel, yet written in excellent and at times even beautiful prose. A dark, nasty novel. A novel where the contractions of real life, as well as its pain, is alive both in the structure of the book and the individual sentences and paragraphs. Even so, it has other moments, intriguing insights, odd observations, and a kind of other-worldly empathy and understanding. Two Girls, Fat and Thin provides a strange tour de force into degradation and casual evil but is even so a book very worth reading. An impressive and disturbing novel!

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The New Yorker (2011): The Other Place, by Mary Gaitskill (short story)

Mirrorball, by Mary Gaitskill (2009) (at the Pantheon Books website)

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Veronica, by Mary Gaitskill

by admin on April 21, 2011

Veronica, Mary GaitskillVeronica is an impressive novel; a journey in time and space exploring the complex relationship between beauty and cruelty. It takes place in a universe where everything revolves in a quasi-random fashion around Alison, a former model – once a very beautiful woman – who is now in her late 40′s. Her life has been in some ways charmed – she has seen places most people will never see; done things few people do. Her life as a model meant she went to Paris as a very young woman – that she was more or less thrown into a whirlwind of events; spun into a universe nobody can ever be prepared for, with agents, clients and a multitude of other cynical creatures all wanting a piece of her in ever so many ways; with drugs, parties, travels and modeling assignments; with easy money but cruel competition.

But life hasn’t always been and isn’t always like that, even for Alison. She has done other things, for instance temp work when she started out, some studies at a college during a dry spell. And while doing other things – not modeling – she meets Veronica, an older woman, a very different woman, a woman who now has AIDS. And somehow Alison held on to Veronica. That she did this is remarkable – Alison sheds friends, lovers and acquaintances in all directions; people are with her, in her life, for a while, and then they disappear. She rarely keeps in touch with anybody apart from her family.

But in the middle of it all is Veronica. So different from Alison. Why is she so important to Alison? What is Veronica – to Alison, that is? Mary Gaitskill never answers this question. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Veronica is such a very clever, penetrating novel, such a remarkable and very impressive character study. We travel back and forth in Alison’s life, we follow her in her relationships with friends, lovers, family and professional relationships, and we follow her to far-away places and very different circumstances and realities. The questions that arise for the reader, like the question about “Why Veronica”, are not answered. Why should they be? They are not Alison’s questions! The many unanswered questions contribute to a compelling sense of openness in the story.

Veronica is a rich book covering events taking place over decades. Even so, the novel deals with one single day in the life of Alison – now much older, worn out, and sick – while memories, stories, sentiments and events trigger journeys in time in her memory. She once was beautiful, but now her face is “broken, with age and pain coming through the cracks.” The structure of the book mimics Allison’s emotional problems and distress.

Allison is a person that mostly goes with the flow and is injured whenever the currents lead her to places where she hits harder materials. She doesn’t reflect much on what she does, doesn’t feel the need to choose much, mostly chooses the path of least resistance, but is affected even though she doesn’t question or struggle to align and bring perspective to her life. My feeling is that Veronica is her anchor – that one immovable, firm point in her life that she needs in order to have something in there that other things can be aligned relative to. The one relationship she clings to in order to not be a person without the ability to have long-term relationships or empathize with others.

Well, that’s my interpretation. Veronica is so rich that there is room for many other interpretations. Read it, enjoy it, ponder it and get back to me with your interpretation! The tale Mary Gaitskill tells in Veronica is strange, somewhat mysterious, beautifully written and compelling. This is a different, very intense, outstanding and extremely rich novel I am sure you will enjoy!

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Interview with Mary Gaitskill – video

by admin on April 5, 2011

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Don’t Cry, by Mary Gaitskill

by admin on March 26, 2010

Mary Gaitskill is a powerful writer. Her way with words is but part of the explanation. Her powers of observation and ability to interpret are probably more important. Don't Cry, by Mary Gaitskill And she has the ability to pose or indicate relevant questions, without feeling the urge to answer them as well.

Her stories in Don’t Cry raise a multitude of fundamental questions, cast in the context of struggles by seemingly very real people; people with flesh and blood who struggle with the stuff real people derive pleasure and pain from: Loss, love, sexuality, memories, feelings and forgiveness, to mention a few.

The stories in this collection are: College Town 1980, Folk Song, A Dream of Men, The Agonized Face, Mirror Ball, Today I’m Yours, The Little Boy, The Arms and Legs of the Lake, Description, and Don’t Cry.

The title story, “Don’t Cry”, is my personal favorite in this collection of great stories. A creative writing professor, Janice, and a girlfriend go to Addis Ababa to adopt a baby. Not the easiest spot to go to if you want that, you think? Right! It is not. A bad bureaucracy and robbery, a strenuous trip overall awaits them, and for Janice her private grief and mourning as well.

You know from the get-go that there will be suffering and misery in these stories. Page one of the first story, “College Town, 1980″, shows you that. And indeed, Gaitskill does tell depressing tales. But they are oh so real. Extremely good stories that are to the point and mostly dead-on – stories that you feel are in a strange sense true and that bring out what you know must the salient aspects of the tales. So true, to the point and real that they make you cry, and fortunately also sometimes laugh out loud. Or make you want to smack the characters over their heads – to tell them to straighten up their minds, to not do what they’re doing. Only you can’t. All you can do is observe, listen, think and feel. And that’s what you do when you read this book.

The stories in Don’t Cry push the boundaries of fiction. They are populated with real and peculiar characters, and their darkest recesses are exposed to us. These are stories told with an almost clinical precision and seen by an unwavering pitiless eye, by an author with a very unsettling ability to turn readers into voyeurs. And who can write about the abysses of the human mind and the logical and emotional flaws of her characters in a way that holds your attention – that really grabs hold of it.

The people in this book have problems. They can’t connect and they can’t solve their problems. And you and I can’t solve their problems for them, even though the book may make us want to . But we can understand a little better, get a little wiser. To me, that’s what Gaitskill does. Adds depth. Gaitskill penetrates the skin of her characters with her scratching nails. And my skin and your skin as well. Don’t Cry is a book of fierce artistry. When you’re done reading, this book will stay with you for a while, and you will know you have just met an extraordinary writer.

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Interviews with Mary Gaitskill

March 15, 2010

Here is a list of some of the interviews Mary Gaitskill has given over the years: The Write Stuff interview (1994) Nerve, interview (2005) New York Magazine interview (2005) Failbetter interview (2006) Inside the Writer’s Mind – from Oprah.com (2007) Believer, interview (2009) Bombsite interview (2009) Portland Mercury, interview (2010)

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Bibliography, Mary Gaitskill

March 15, 2010

Bad Behavior (1988) (short stories) Two Girls, Fat and Thin (1991) (novel) Because They Wanted To (1997) (short stories) Veronica (2005) (novel) Don’t Cry (2009) (short stories) Secretary (movie – co-author) Flight Patterns: A Century of Stories about Flying Links to books by Mary Gaitskill at Amazon USA, Amazon UK, and Amazon CAN.

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