Gaitskill (Veronica, 2005, etc.) returns with a fierce and fearless collection of stories.
In the most successful pieces, Gaitskill explores the involutions and intertwinings of sex, intimacy and family. “Folk Song” consists of a chilling series of links among newspaper stories about a sadistic killer, a woman who vows to have sex with a thousand men in a row and a pair of endangered turtles stolen from a zoo. In “Mirror Ball,” a boy steals a girl’s soul during a one-night stand. “The Agonized Face,” about a journalist’s encounter with a famous feminist author who was once a prostitute, provides an account at once ruthless and exquisitely sensitive of the ways a public identity can be both refuge and trap, haven and hair shirt. Many of these stories—a notable exception is the grim, taut title story, about a middle-aged woman searching Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a child to adopt—are less traditional fictions than essays in fictive form, occasions for Gaitskill to meditate on the darkness and contradictions of Eros. There’s too much insider writing-program stuff, and a few pieces fall flat, but Gaitskill has a rare talent for uncovering, with a near-impossible combination of compassion and pitilessness, what lies beneath the surfaces we work hard to make placid.
Another accomplished collection from an American original.