Gaitskill’s willingness to ignore common wisdom and consider controversial and complex questions from different viewpoints...



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.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-524-74913-2

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.


Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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