Yes, 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!