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Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill

April 6, 2010

You Should Read If: you like a dark, erotic twist to your literary fiction OR rebellious characters searching for authenticity floats your boat.

When Susan sees a homeless woman who looks like her former best friend Leisha, the sight evokes a rush of emotion ranging from ‘schadenfreudian’ joy to pity to shame upon realizing the homeless woman is not her friend. The event recalls a series of memories beginning with their unique introduction in college (Leisha is the ex-girlfriend of Susan’s ex-boyfriend) to their friendship’s ultimate and bitter disintegration years later…

There are nine stories in this debut story collection by Mary Gaitskill, the veteran author I saw a few weeks ago at the panel “Why We Read.” The story she’s most known for is likely “Secretary,” which provided the basis for the movie featuring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader, but that wasn’t the one I liked. In fact, the story that got me the most wasn’t about romance or kink, though it was, like most of the stories, centered around the belief that the only connection you can have with people is “intense, inexplicable, and ultimately incomplete.” I could have been entranced by “An Affair, Edited,” a carefully constructed story about a man who sees his former girlfriend in the street and begins to remember their tortured relationship, or “Trying To Be,”  my 2nd place pick, about a young woman/writer/prostitute/hipster who grows attached to one of her clients.  But instead it was “Connection,” the story described initially, that really got me reading. Maybe it’s because the story is about platonic love rather than romantic love, and because the complicated feelings–both women are self-damagingly envious, competitive, and judgmental–between Susan and Leisha felt painfully relatable. Anyone who’s ever watched Mean Girls knows that things can get complicated between girlfriends, but Gaitskill captures it deftly. If I said it was a must read, would that make you read it?

Favorite Line(s):

“She was in love with the idea of intelligence, and she overestimated her own” — “A Romantic Weekend”

“Susan now identiified her early fascination with Leisha as a vicarious erotic connection with the ex-lover they had both slept with” — “Connection”

“Of course, she realized what he liked about her. He loved the idea of kooky, arty girls who lived “bohemian” lives and broke all the rules. It was the kind of thing he regarded with a certain admiration, but did not want to do himself. He had probably had affairs with eccentric, unpredictable women in college, and then married the most stable, socially desirable woman he could find” — “Trying To Be”

“She pictured herself in the future, so successful she could talk about being a hooker without anyone minding…they’d all laugh at this adorable admission of her female vulnerability” — “Trying To Be”

Triumverate Reading Challenge Status:

  • Women: 0
  • Debuts: 2
  • Short Stories: 0
  • ALL OF THE ABOVE: 0 (+1)
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