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 Continue reading

The Vanishing Moon by Joseph Coulson

Whereas we in the west speak of, and see, a “man” on the moon, the Chinese tell stories of and see a rabbit on the moon. Poet, playwright, and editor Joseph Coulson’s great first novel The Vanishing Moon (Archipelago Books, 330 pages) is hardly focused on the moon and yet it is, one might say, focused on the vanishing of beautiful things for which the elusive moon is a most, perhaps the most, romantic emblem: a unique book of pressed wildflowers; the innocence of children playing in the woods before they become conscious of a humiliating poverty; and the exceptional beauty of the unconsummated (preserving the sublime) over the requited (wallowing in the mire) Continue reading

Black Dogs by Ian McEwan

Rarely does it seem that a great writer is recognized in his time, but Ian McEwan is an exception. Using the trope of two black mastiffs left behind by the Gestapo but still menacing the beautiful French countryside, in Black Dogs (Nan A. Talese, 149 pages) McEwan tells the tale of an older couple June and Bernard Tremaine, living in different countries but still in love. The clever narrator, their son-in-law whose own parents died when he was eight, pieces together the interlacing of the private lives and world events of his adoptive parents from deathbed interviews with once-stunningly beautiful June and her big-chinned rational Marxist politician husband. The action toggles in space and Continue reading