Mary Gaitskill

  • Triumph of the Quill

    We had a pleasant little party the other day, what can I say: tra-la-la, Aldanov in tails, Bunin in the vilest dinner-jacket, Khmara with a guitar and Kedrova, Ilyusha in such narrow trousers that his legs were like two black sausages, old, sweet Teffi—and all this in a revoltingly luxurious mansion . . . as we listened to the blind-drunk Khmara’s rather boorish ballads she kept saying: but my life is over! while Kedrova (a very sharp-eyed little actress whom Aldanov thinks a new Komissarzhevskaya) shamelessly begged me for a part. Why, of course, the most banal

  • In Charm’s Way

    This is not a book I would normally read; I rarely read mysteries, and the title, Gone Girl, is irritating on its face. I bought it anyway because two friends recommended it with enormous enthusiasm, and because I was curious about its enormous popularity: the millions of copies sold, the impending movie by David Fincher and Reese Witherspoon, the glowing reviews. I found it as irritating as imagined, populated by snarky-cute, pop-culturally twisted voices coming out of characters who seem constructed entirely of “referents” and “signifiers,” and who say things like “Suck it, snobdouche!” The

  • The Money Plot

    Stanley Elkins The Magic Kingdom is about a man’s efforts to take a group of terminally ill children to Disney World. Published in 1985, it is about as unsentimental and hilarious a chronicle of the indignities of life as I’ve ever encountered. The language and wit of the narration, and the detail lavished on the wretchedly afflicted children, keep what is now a familiar trope—the Make-A-Wish phenomenon—very fresh. There is a funny sequence toward the beginning of the novel when the protagonist, Eddy Bale, himself a grieving father, gains an audience with the Queen of England. He hopes for a

  • Master’s Mind

    Few books I’ve read carry the visceral impact of Marlene van Niekerk’s Agaat; it is the South African writer’s second novel and fifth book, and it is stunning. Set in the apartheid era of the 1950s into the ’90s, on a dairy farm contentiously run by a desperately unhappy white couple, Milla and Jak de Wet, and their half-adopted, half-enslaved black maid, Agaat, it is about institutional racial violence, intimate domestic violence, human violence against the natural world, pride, folly, self-deception, and the innately mixed, sometimes debased nature of human love. It is especially about how

  • Hagiography

    Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugrešić is on the simplest level about the adventures of four old hags, plus their families and friends, adventures seen through the palimpsest narration of ur-witch Baba Yaga—the greatest hag of ’em all. I don’t use the word hag impudently here. The author not only invites the term; in this strange and wonderful book, she owns it.

    Divided into three parts, the book begins with a mundane tale about a difficult mother-daughter relationship and gradually hints at something eerie hidden in the folds of its plain skirt. The story is located in Zagreb, which, we