Friday, January 06, 2006

Lorin Stein has a very good essay on Mary Gaitskill

in the latest New York Review of Books. It's not available online (one day I am going to steel myself and pay the extra $20 required to have full electronic access in addition to my print subscription, but that day has not yet come, mostly because on principle it strikes me as completely outrageous--it's ridiculous, I actually have the print one as a gift subscription, so I should just suck it up and pay, but can't bring myself to...), but Alice Boone offers a thoughtful and interesting blog post about it that includes some excerpts.

The last part of Stein's essay is particularly effective, as he discusses the way that Gaitskill takes abstractions--"old-fashioned words like pity and compassion"--and "[tests] them against the complexity of her characters' inner lives." He gives my favorite passage from Veronica, in which Alison tells the story of her friend Veronica's "coarse and sentimental stories," including one about "being raped by a man who broke into her apartment" that includes the line (Veronica's line) "'My rapist was very tender.'" This is Alison's commentary:

Smart people would say she spoke that way about the story because she was trying to take control over it, because she wanted to deny the pain of it, even make herself superior to it. This is probably true. Smart people would also say that sentimentality always indicates a lack of feeling. Maybe this is true, too. But I'm sure she truly thought the rapist was tender. If he'd had a flash of tenderness anywhere in him, a memory of his mother, of himself as a baby, of a toy, she would've felt it because she was desperate for it. Even though it had nothing to do with her, she would've sought it, reaching for it as it sank away in a deep pool. I'll be looking at the moon, but I'll be seeing---

Here was my original post about the novel, if you didn't catch it first time round.