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Saturday August 02, 2014
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Mary Gaitskill

 

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sadomasochism or the pathway to a deadly disease. Yet what was most troubling about these stories was the dark allure of their world.

In Gaitskill's recent novel Veronica, the title character laments to the narrator, after overhearing a casual comment at a showing of Robert Mapplethorpe photographs, "Everything we did is being erased. . . . They're denying it all. They're taking it all away." It is one of many moments in the book where cultural loss seems personally overwhelming. The novel is about the sad end of something, but it's also about what comes after the end, and that is a new thing in Gaitskill's fiction.

To tell this story, Gaitskill has found a way to jump back and forth in time, as easily as if sifting through a photo album. There is no jarring when Gaitskill summarizes four decades of attitude — "For a while, 'we' were loving; then we were alienated and angry, then ironic, then depressed. Although we are at war with terror, fashion magazines say we are sunny now. We wear bright colors and choose moral clarity" — because her characters have embodied all those changes.

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