cover image The Devil’s Treasure

The Devil’s Treasure

Mary Gaitskill. Ze, $35 (336p) ISBN 978-1-73354-015-5

Gaitskill’s curious new project (after the novella This Is Pleasure) looks back on four of her previous novels and a memoir, splices them with critical self-reflections, and threads the needle with a short work in progress. The slight frame story concerns a seven-year-old girl named Ginger who journeys to hell through a hole in her backyard. As she makes her way back home, she encounters nightmarish reflections, demonic strangers, and Satan himself. But the bulk of the book is excerpts from past books including Veronica (2005), about a budding fashion model, and The Mare (2015), concerning two girls who come of age in upstate New York, where one visits from Brooklyn over the years as part of the Fresh Air Fund, and ride horses together. Hence the reader has several versions of troubled suburban girlhood, haunted or abusive fathers, and barbed early friendships, bordered by long sections in which Gaitskill reflects on her use of the themes, recalls the conditions and intent behind the books’ composition, and responds to her critics. As an experiment, this doesn’t quite come together. At its best, it functions as a showcase for Gaitskill’s powerful back catalog, but more often the indulgent structure fails to hold and obscures her intent. While her insights will prove valuable to her most ardent fans, everyone else can take a pass. (Oct.)