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Archive for April 24th, 2009

“Good writers show us new places. Great writers give us new ways of looking at the old one. Just as Ruskin enabled a generation of Europeans to see the landscape that was actually in front of them rather than the conventionalized approximations they carried around in their heads, so is Gaitskill one of those rare artists who can endow us with braver, more vigilant senses. You step out of her books and into a whole new world.”

So says William Deresiewicz in his fine review of Mary Gaitskill‘s novels and early short fiction.

But not so, concludes Deresiewicz, with her new short story collection, Don’t Cry:

“A young writer pours her agonies of soul into work of uncompromising honesty. She stares into an abyss of pain so that we may see the truth. But few have the energy to sustain such effort indefinitely. Eventually, the spirit seeks rest–seeks comfort, seeks consolation, seeks peace. It happened to Wordsworth and Conrad, and now it seems to be happening to Mary Gaitskill. The hunger has gone out of her work. Gaitskill was a great poet of youthful suffering. Whether she can reinvent herself as a chronicler of maturity remains to be seen.”

I am among the many fans of Gaitskill’s fiction disappointed by the largely unfavorable reviews for Don’t Cry. Readers new to Gaitskill’s work — and she deserves a wide audience — are best to begin at the beginning, with her first short story collection, Bad Behavior.

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