Because They Wanted to: Stories by Mary Gaitskill

Because They Wanted to (Scribner, 256 pages).  Mary Gaitskill is the real thing, as Hem said about F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Coke says about itself. She is one of those writers you feel writes in black blood, and only tells lies to clarify the truth. Like Bukowski, she is attracted to the ugly truth far more than representation of the beautiful or the good. Her detailed descriptions of female pixies and the inexorable pivots on which their love lives slip into what would be despair if they were not so inured to pain from its constant presence, her often seamless use of flashbacks in narrators or protagonists chaotically attracted to their abusive pasts, and her beautiful, precise use of language separate her from the pack. Her ability to pierce (and possess) with her putatively lesbian mind the consciousness of young males on the make, or a father disappointed in his daughter, her unabashed confrontations with the brutality of the real–her stubborn prying open of a literary window between the twin horrors of youthful innocence stripped away by male desire and firm female flesh by cellulite in the bad joke of time–her failure to comfort herself with pabulum, her skewering of the dishonest and the false with a quill tipped in poison love are what make her great.

Dorion Sagan, author of  The Devil’s Comic (2000) and co-author of Pack of Lies (forthcoming).


He was horribly aware of being in public, so he paid for the thing and took it out to the car. He drove slowly to another spot in the lot, as far away from the drugstore as possible, picked up the magazine and began again. She described the “terrible difficulties” between him and her. She recounted, briefly and with hieroglyphic politeness, the fighting, the running away, the return, the tacit reconciliation.

“There is an emotional distance that we have both accepted and chosen to work around, hoping the occasional contact – love, anger, something -will get through.”

He put the magazine down and looked out the window. It was near dusk; most of the stores in the little mall were closed. There were only two other cars in the parking lot, and a big, slow, frowning woman with two grocery bags was getting ready to drive one away. He was parked before a weedy piece of land at the edge of the lot. In it were rough, picky weeds spread out like big green tarantulas, young yellow dandelions, frail old dandelions, and bunches of tough blue chickweed. Even in his distress he vaguely appreciated the beauty of the blue weeds against the cool white-and-gray sky. For a moment the sound of insects comforted him. Images of Kitty passed through his memory with terrible speed: her nine-year-old forehead bent over her dish of ice cream, her tiny nightgowned form ran up the stairs, her ringed hand crushed her face, the keys on her belt jiggled as she walked her slow blue-jeaned walk away from the house. Gone, all gone.

The article went on to describe how Kitty hung up the phone feeling frustrated and then listed all of the things she could’ve said to him to let him know how hurt she was, paving the way for “real communication”; it was all in ghastly talk-show language. He was unable to put these words together with the Kitty he had last seen lounging around the house. She was twenty-eight now, and she no longer dyed her hair or wore jewels in her nose. Her demeanor was serious, bookish, almost old maidish. Once, he’d overheard her saying to Marsha, “So then this Italian girl gives me the once over and says to Joanne, ‘You ‘ang around with too many Wasp.’ And I said, ‘I’m not a Wasp, I’m white trash.’ ”

“Speak for yourself,” he’d said.

“If the worst occurred and my father was unable to respond to me in kind, I still would have done a good thing. I would have acknowledged my own needs and created the possibility to connect with what therapists call ‘the good parent’ in myself.”

Well, if that was the kind of thing she was going to say to him, he was relieved she hadn’t said it. But if she hadn’t said it to him, why was she saying it to the rest of the country?

He turned on the radio. It sang, “Try to remember, and if you remember, then follow, follow.” He turned it off. The interrupted dream echoed faintly. He closed his eyes. When he was nine or ten, an uncle of his had told him, “Everybody makes his own world. You see what you want to see and hear what you want to hear. You can do it right now. If you blink ten times and then close your eyes real tight, you can see anything you want to see in front of you.” He’d tried it, rather halfheartedly, and hadn’t seen anything but the vague suggestion of a yellowish-white ball moving creepily through the dark. At the time, he’d thought it was perhaps because he hadn’t tried hard enough.

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