Because They Wanted Toby Mary Gaitskill
A New York Times Notable Book
A man tells a story to a woman sitting beside him on a plane, little suspecting what it reveals about his capacity for cruelty and contempt. A callow runaway girl is stranded in a strange city with another woman’s fractiously needy children. An uncomprehending father helplessly lashes out at the daughter he both loves/i>… See more details below
A New York Times Notable Book
A man tells a story to a woman sitting beside him on a plane, little suspecting what it reveals about his capacity for cruelty and contempt. A callow runaway girl is stranded in a strange city with another woman’s fractiously needy children. An uncomprehending father helplessly lashes out at the daughter he both loves and resents. In these raw, startling, and incandescently lovely stories, the author of Veronica yields twelve indelible portraits of people struggling with the disparity between what they want and what they know. Because They Wanted To is further evidence that Gaitskill is one of the fiercest, funniest, and most subversively compassionate writers at work today.
Gaitskill has a thing about female sex workers; several of her female characters have done time either as strippers or hookers and wear their resumés defiantly. Casually bisexual, they get off on the cutting edge of sexual politics, often to the dismay of fathers and boyfriends. In Tiny, Smiling Daddy a father seethes over his lesbian daughter's outing of their emotional problems in the pages of Self magazine. Words sting and bruise in Because They Wanted To (as slack a title as you could ask for). But all this verbal assault and battery makes for a gloomy Starbucks afternoon.
A transgressive writer in realist clothing, Gaitskill specializes in charged emotional scenes delivered with affectless precision. Her stories drift with a vague forward momentum, occasionally circling in upon themselves to exhale a memory. Since Gaitskill focuses on her characters' emotional and sexual lives, they come off as skeletal, attenuated and one-dimensional. They seek something they wouldn't recognize if it slapped them on the ass. "I told her I was sick of categories like butch bottom and femme top or vice versa," says 39-year-old Susan in The Wrong Thing, the last and longest of these nine unsentimental journeys. "I said I was looking for something more genuine, although I didn't know yet what it was. She said she thought she probably was too." Ah, commitment.
Gaitskill's universe is not a laugh riot. It's a stark place reduced to sociosexual signifiers such as the occasional nipple ring or awkwardly wielded rubber cock. It's all au courant, and more than a little sad. "It was fun to say that I liked something refined and cruel," says Susan in The Wrong Thing "but under the fun was an impatient yank of boredom and under that was indignation and pain." Love hurts indeed. -- Richard Gehr
The familial origins of her troubled women are well illustrated in "Tiny, Smiling Daddy," a portrait of a father disturbed by the course of his daughter's life, from sweet, beautiful girl to snarling teen and then to grown-up lesbian rehashing their relationship in a national magazine. A male perspective in two stories is equally grim: The twentysomething fellow who returns to Iowa to visit his injured mother uses the occasion to manipulate his girlfriend back in San Francisco; more troubling is the drunken confession by a middle-aged businessman on an airplane to his shocked female seatmateas a teenager he participated in a gang rape. Quite a few pieces concern women in their late 30s, often bisexual, who seem incapable of maintaining relationships. The writer in "The Dentist" becomes obsessed with seducing her dumpy dentist, a man made uncomfortable by her sexual innuendos. In "The Wrong Thing," the narrator is, at first, dismayed by a younger man reluctant to have sex with her and retreats into an affair with a woman who likes only S&M role- playing. "The Blanket" explores a similar notion: An older woman energizes her younger lover by exploring their fantasies. The finest piece is "Orchid," the discussions of two college housemates who hook up years later in Seattle and seem to prove that those in the so-called helping professionsshe's a social worker, he's a psychopharmacologistare usually in need of much help themselves.
Gaitskill continues to explore the margins of human sexuality in stories distinguished by their strange terrain rather than by their exceptional skill.
- Simon & Schuster
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