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by Mary Gaitskill

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-684-80856-0
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Gaitskill's second collection is a return to the themes of her first, Bad Behavior (1988): Bad girls misbehave and end up as profiles in sexual pathology. For all their naughty sex talk, there's very little pleasure—Gaitskill's women are too brittle and nervous, forever exhausted by their unusual tastes, to take much relish in life. The familial origins of her troubled women are well illustrated in ``Tiny, Smiling Daddy,'' a portrait of a father disturbed by the course of his daughter's life, from sweet, beautiful girl to snarling teen and then to grown-up lesbian rehashing their relationship in a national magazine. A male perspective in two stories is equally grim: The twentysomething fellow who returns to Iowa to visit his injured mother uses the occasion to manipulate his girlfriend back in San Francisco; more troubling is the drunken confession by a middle-aged businessman on an airplane to his shocked female seatmate—as a teenager he participated in a gang rape. Quite a few pieces concern women in their late 30s, often bisexual, who seem incapable of maintaining relationships. The writer in ``The Dentist'' becomes obsessed with seducing her dumpy dentist, a man made uncomfortable by her sexual innuendos. In ``The Wrong Thing,'' the narrator is, at first, dismayed by a younger man reluctant to have sex with her and retreats into an affair with a woman who likes only S&M role- playing. ``The Blanket'' explores a similar notion: An older woman energizes her younger lover by exploring their fantasies. The finest piece is ``Orchid,'' the discussions of two college housemates who hook up years later in Seattle and seem to prove that those in the so-called helping professions—she's a social worker, he's a psychopharmacologist—are usually in need of much help themselves. Gaitskill continues to explore the margins of human sexuality in stories distinguished by their strange terrain rather than by their exceptional skill.