This insightful fictional take on a #MeToo scandal offers fresh perspectives and avoids easy answers.
The #MeToo movement is arguably not known for nuance; common narratives often portray victims, villains, and little in between. In her novels, essays, and short stories, however, Gaitskill (Somebody With a Little Hammer, 2017, etc.) frequently explores the shaded contours and subtle seesaws of sexual power dynamics and conjures complex characters that resist our urge to fit them into delineated categories of morality and culpability. In this novella, originally published on the New Yorker's website, Gaitskill introduces two characters swept up—one directly and one indirectly—in a could-have-been-ripped-from-the-headlines #MeToo moment and, in brief, alternating chapters, allows them to tell their own stories. Quin is an elegant, eccentric, well-connected New York book editor who, although married to a beautiful fashionista and the father of a precocious daughter, enjoys engaging with women he meets, at work and elsewhere, intimately and sexually—toying with them, his friend Margot suggests, in a “vaguely sadistic” yet ultimately harmless way. But is it harmless? Are the women emphatically victims and Quin the culprit? And if so, is the punishment Quin is facing—losing his career and social standing—commensurate with his crime? Margot, who rebuffed Quin’s sexual advance early in their long friendship, before she acquired her own publishing-world power, believes the young women who have accused Quin of wrongdoing were, at least in some cases, willing participants in and beneficiaries of Quin’s sexual game-playing and that he does not deserve to be punished so harshly. Is Margot correct, or is her judgment clouded by friendship? Does she herself deserve disdain as an enabler? Gaitskill provides room for readers to disagree, ultimately raising more questions than answers. “The best story is one that reveals a truth,” Quin asserts, “like something you see and understand in a dream but forget as soon as you wake up.” The indefinite article is everything there. In this novella, Gaitskill reveals two truths—Quin’s and Margot’s—and reminds us that the truth can be painfully elusive.
Gaitskill’s willingness to ignore common wisdom and consider controversial and complex questions from different viewpoints is a true literary pleasure.