cover image Don’t Cry

Don’t Cry

Mary Gaitskill, . . Pantheon, $23.95 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-375-42419-9

A grab bag of 10 stories spotlight the writhing of Gaitskill’s (Veronica ) listless characters within unloving landscapes. In the portrayal of a depressive 29-year-old graduate student trying to pick up her life after a shattering breakup, “College Town, 1980,” set in Ann Arbor, encapsulates the collective self-abnegation that seized America’s young on the cusp of the Reagan revolution. “The Agonized Face” is a rigorous critique of a feminist author who manipulates her audience “with her sullied, catastrophic life placed before us for the purpose of selling her.” Mostly, though, characters give in to nostalgia rather than anger, like the medical technician in “A Dream of Men” whose bittersweet memories of her dying father mingle with her ambivalence about her sexuality; or a now-married middle-aged writer’s touching encounter with a stylish former lesbian lover she had 15 years before. The title story’s protagonist, a recent widow accompanying her friend to adopt a baby in an unstable Addis Ababa, is nearly submerged by her guilt at having been once unfaithful to her husband, but like others in Gaitskill’s pristinely rendered yet joyless gallery, she finds visceral gratitude in unexpected moments. (Mar.)