Because They Wanted to: Stories

Mary Gaitskill, Author
Mary Gaitskill, Author Simon & Schuster $22 (256p) ISBN 978-0-684-80856-7
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-684-84144-1
Open Ebook - 256 pages - 978-1-4391-2797-1
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In ""The Dentist,"" a story about a magazine writer's sexual infatuation with her bland, middle-aged dentist, a billboard for Obsession perfume looms over the protagonist's neighborhood, projecting a ""strange arrested sensuality of unsatisfied want."" Like that billboard, the nine stories in Gaitskill's third book (after the novel, Two Girls, Fat and Thin) hold a mirror up to a 30-something zeitgeist of emotional dysfunction, chronicling people paralyzed by unappeasable desires and trapped by abusive families and relationships. The landscape is a familiar one--of support groups and public health clinics, funky neighborhoods in the Pacific Northwest and lower Manhattan inhabited by writers, musicians and sex workers. With her crisp prose and withering eye for detail, Gaitskill invests these scenes with psychological vividness and desolate poignancy. The title story is a portrait of a resilient 16-year-old who runs away from home in the wake of her parent's divorce and takes a job in Vancouver babysitting for a financially desperate mother of three. The disgruntled protagonist of the opening story, ""Tiny, Smiling Daddy,"" disturbed that his estranged lesbian daughter has published a self-help essay about him in a national magazine, ponders the divide between parents and children. In the four-part final story, ""The Wrong Thing,"" a 39-year-old poetry teacher tries to remain stoic in the face of a series of erotic but loveless flings. It's telling that Gaitskill's title is an unfinished sentence, for the theme that binds these stories together is an emotional modality shared by a cast of unhappy people, whose sordid fantasy lives and small gestures of compassion allow them to keep at bay the meaninglessness and despair of the everyday. (Jan.)
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