After the flashy debut of her story collection, Bad Behavior, Gaitskill's first novel seems downright demure. Despite its disturbing scene of S-M, it's mostly a thoughtful and eloquent psychological profile of two strangely connected lives. What draws the two girls of the title together is the popular philosopher Anna Granite (a thinly disguised version of Ayn Rand). Justine Shade, a pretty and slender part-time secretary, also writes for a Village Voice-like tabloid; her investigation into the dying cult of Granite brings her into contact with Dorothy Storm (nÇe Footie), an obese Wall St. word-processor who changed her life for the better when she dropped out of college and became part of Granite's inner circle. The long middle section of the novel, acutely observed forays into the two women's pasts, reveals their oddly parallel lives. Despite dramatic differences in class and family life, both women have been victimized: Dorothy by her sexually abusive father, and Justine by her emotionally damaging parents--cool and distant, and oh-so liberal-minded. Both imaginative, articulate, and literate girls, they find themselves outsiders among their peers: one shunned for her apparent physical difference; the other appalled by the cruelty and betrayal that young people are given to. If Dorothy punishes herself by eating her way into oblivion, Justine begins to discover kinky sexuality: first, through masturbatory fantasies of torture, and then by acting out some bizarre adolescent rites. As adults, Justine continues to subject herself to violent, degrading sex, while Dorothy has found psychic liberation through the erotically charged ideas of Granite, who teaches her how life can matter if we decide to make it matter, and other such "definitist" nostrums. Meanwhile, Justine publishes her smart and cynical article, which properly debunks the pseudo-philosophy of Granite, and betrays the oft-abused Dorothy. But the latter's rage subsides when she becomes the very screwed-up Justine's literal savior. Gaitskill fully understands the psycho-dynamics of being a misfit, and hence the appeal of such as Rand. But her fine and disturbing novel is also a stunning work of the imagination--genuine and luminous.