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!

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Colin Erickson z December 25, 2011 at 7:46 pm

The two share quite a few “Hot Love” moments between them, with Mary making up the love triangle.

Sung December 31, 2011 at 8:34 am

Great writeup on a novel I just finished reading. I’m a big fan of Gaitskill’s, too, and I adored Veronica. That’s a great question you bring up — why is Veronica such a prominent, unshakable figure for Alison? I thought it was because:

1) she’s even more walled off than Alison is, emotionally, which Alison sees as a strength, at least initially;
2) she revels in her unattractiveness/doesn’t care. As a model, someone who makes her living from her outer appearance, Alison enjoys Veronica’s freedom vicariously.

When Alison meets her, she’s twenty-five or so, right? For models, that’s ancient, but in any other reality, she’s in the prime of her youth. So to see someone like Veronica, who’s not beautiful and not young, living her life the way she does — it seems to me that Alison found this attractive.

I agree with you — I think it’s wonderful that Gaitskill left this a mystery for us to think about. And I’m so glad you started this website — good luck with it!

- Sung

Julissa October 15, 2012 at 5:35 am

I found myself nodidng my noggin all the way through.

AnOriginalName May 19, 2013 at 10:26 pm

I love this book. I picked this book for my English class because I read about Mary Gaitskill and her work and assumed that I would not be bored with all the things about sexual fetishes and immorality. But this book isn’t like that, those are benign; the main force of the story is amazing. What makes this book difficult for me to do my project is exactly what I love about it, the story is not chronological and the actual events aren’t important but rather the thoughts of Allison are. I’d admit before I just scoffed at literature as a serious subject, when I was 8 or so I tried reading Harry Potter and I got so bored I didn’t get passed 16 pages. Otherwise every other piece of literature was in an English class which I didn’t hate but didn’t care for; I just assumed literature was just something I had no interest in. I felt I would be better served reading non-fiction books like those on philosophy or history, I even read Karl Marx for my required reading. But this book just had such an effect on me, everytime I stopped reading I would go around analyzing things in my head like Allison did in the book. This book is absolutely amazing.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: