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::: Because They Wanted To (Gaitskill)

The back cover of this book praises "Gaitskill's...brainy lyricism...acid shot through with grace" and uses words like "maturity, depth, and dazzling insight." Like the Camel, I say "Humph." She does have some sparks of brilliance, for example: "She wished she could grab the happiness and mash it into a ball and hoard it and gloat over it, but she couldn't. It just ran around all over the place, disrupting everything." I know exactly what she's talking about and I laughed out loud. Or this one:

She didn't think his languor was drug-induced. It seemed more the product of an unusual distribution of self, as if, by some crafty manipulation of internal circuitry, he'd concentrated himself in certain key psychic posts and abandoned the vast regions he didn't want to be in.

That's top-notch: lively, unusual, specific, vivid. For the rest, it's a lot of sad, disappointed, unlikable people. (And sex, which if I were in college I might find daring and bold, but now? Ho-hum.) She makes heavy use of analogies but frequently phrases them as "She felt like x" or "It was like x" or "It reminded her of x" -- read enough of those and you start to feel your teeth jarring with the bouncing. Some of them are just plain Not Useful. For example, a man on an airplane notices the woman next to him: "She smiled a tight, rueful smile that he associated with women who'd been fucked too many times." Um...huh? How many is too many? Would all women look the same? Doubtful, so how are we supposed to translate this into a visual image? Vague, so the reader has to expend a lot of effort to puzzle out what the writer ought to have made vivid and clear.

Oh, and the lack of endings. The stories just trail off and nothing's resolved -- no one changes, no one grows, no one comes to any realization, no one learns anything about themselves. They are in fact the most self-absorbed bunch of characters I've encountered in ages.

Granted this was ten years ago; maybe her newer stuff is better. But I won't go looking for it.



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