Ann Arbor Weather:
Friday October 15, 2021
Follow us: facebook twitter RSS feed
Mary Gaitskill

Mary Gaitskill

After the end

by Keith Taylor

From the December, 2006 issue

In the 1980s Mary Gaitskill exploded into the reading world with Bad Behavior, a collection of short stories that shocked and challenged what was left of complacent baby-boomer assumptions about our generation's social experiments. The parties had become desperate and alcoholic, the playful drug use had turned into addiction, and free love had become 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.

Alison Owen, the narrator of Veronica, is a troubled runaway, who left home both because she hated it and because it was the thing to do. She stumbles through the fashionable cities of her era, starting with selling flowers in front of strip joints in San Francisco. She becomes a temp worker in New York, an exploited fashion model in Paris, and a nameless actress in music videos in L.A. She revels in the flashy beauty of the moment, defining herself

...continued below...


and everyone she meets by its lavishly ephemeral standards. She has a string of lovers who treat her with various degrees of kindness or disdain, but she also eventually befriends Veronica, an older woman, dying of AIDS, who is abrasive, worn, and belligerently unfashionable. That improbable friendship becomes redemptive:



I sank down into darkness and lived among demons for a long, long time. I became one of them. . . . I was saved by another demon, who looked on me with pity and so became human again. And because I pitied her in turn, I was allowed to become human, too.



Coming after a clear-eyed tour of the alluring decadence that captivated so many of us, this movement toward a new understanding of what we will have to call "love" has made Mary Gaitskill one of the more interesting writers of our time. She returns to Ann Arbor to read from Veronica and other work in the U-M Visiting Writers Series at Residential College Auditorium on Thursday, December 7.

[Review published December 2006]     (end of article)

 


 
Bookmark and Share
Print Comment E-mail

You might also like:

Nightspots: Live
Social and Political Activism
Opportunity Index
When Success by 6 searches for families in need, it has the help of a powerful data-mapping tool.
Trilby MacDonald
Photo: WWII Veteran Honored in Chelsea
Food, Housing, and Assistance
Finding a Farmers' Market
How specialized sellers from near and far pick their spots.
Micheline Maynard, with research by L.R. Nunez
Remembering Professor Don Cameron, by Jeffrey A. Stacey
Testing the Waters
How Lea Monaghan and her colleagues keep the city's drinking water safe.
Ken Garber
Underground Sounds Makes Another Move
It's now near Literati.
Micheline Maynard
Crime Map
A clickable, zoomable map
a guide to senior living and services
Observer job posting for admin assistant
a2view the Ann Arbor Observer's weekly email newsletter