The Mary Gaitskill Problem



(Photo by David Shankbone.)

IT’S A PROBLEM many esteemed contemporary writers seem to have– the lack of a philosophical foundation, a metaphysical perspective on life and the universe, which for all their talent prevents their work from having greater depth and meaning.

FOR a literary writer Mary Gaitskill is supremely talented. At her best, with a story such as “Girl on a Plane,” she reaches a level of strong emotion. Like a punch to the gut. After reading more of her fiction one realizes they’re all of a piece– the characters intelligent but superficial animals whose primary motivation is sex.

An accurate depiction of today’s society. There are no happy endings. Men and women exist in dysfunctional hate-love relationships with scarcely the possibility of getting along. Captives of their drives. The sexually liberated society; which comes across as an unending sadomasochistic nightmare. No escape. No hope of redemption or salvation. At the end of the tale one of the characters is humiliated. Or both of them. Destroyed. Shattered. Lost animals without souls to tarnish. No heroes or even anti-heroes. It’s a problem not of the writer so much as society– particularly, their urban New York City or San Francisco milieu. A typical tale is “Kiss and Tell,” in which a struggling male screenwriter is in love with a struggling actress. The sex is briefly very good, but friendship is the only way they can ultimately connect– then even that collapses. The friendship ends in betrayal and bitterness.

The writing, like the sex, is very good. But is it enough?

Has Mary Gaitskill done enough to enter the Tournament?

4 thoughts on “The Mary Gaitskill Problem

  1. In my opinion, no, and you have already established why.
    But not all relationships resemble her stories. Especially those of us who are older figure out how to keep going as couples.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Ms. Gaitskill’s writing is better than very good. It’s brilliant, Daisy’s Valentine, A Romantic Weeked are a few examples. She has a style that is all her own because it doesn’t fit the typical MFA aesthetic. And she’s not as nihilistic as you make her sound. There are moments in her stories that have great naivete, purposeful naivete, and quite frankly tenderness; Yes she can be sadomasochistic and punch you in the gut, but if you look beyond the sex and her endings, she can contrast that with stark humanity.

    Liked by 1 person

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