Because I Wanted To

Last night I finished reading Mary Gaitskill’s Because They Wanted to, at long last. I’ve been working through it for a few weeks, stealing chances to read now and then. I enjoyed it about as much as I enjoyed Don’t Cry, which was a lot.

Gaitskill’s narrators tend to have a detached objectivity, which I think would normally turn me off because it gets “cold” and “robotic” if overdone, but she tempers it with gorgeous descriptions and unique, unlikely metaphors and similes. I’ll never forget how in “College Town” in Don’t Cry, she described one character as having the “face of a greyhound,” which I thought was simple and brilliant.

On the one hand then, in Gaitskill’s work you get the very sort of high-intellect descriptors mixed with very reflex-oriented, gutteral metaphor. While the body and the mind don’t necessarily coexist in her fiction, they share the burden of the story telling. It’s an interesting give-and-take.

A lot of the stories are about intimate relationships. Gaitskill’s objectivity, when applied to sex and sexuality, is somewhat uncanny, but it also feels very honest and true to me in a way that doesn’t at all glorify or memorialize the sex act in any way. There’s no sentimentality in her work. That’s what I’m trying to say. But it is emotional. The emotional effect of her work is cumulative, and many of the stories are burdened by lonesomeness, by characters who are, like their narration, almost fully detached from the world itself, held on by the thread that tethers them to the story (which sometimes breaks off at the end, letting them drift off into nothingness).

Of all the prose writers I’ve been writing, I think it’s she who I admire most. The craft of her language is, to me, exquisite and interesting and challenging in a lot of ways, but always true.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Currently devouring:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.” So begins Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, an expanded edition of the beloved Jane Austen novel featuring all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie mayhem. As our story opens, a mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton–and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennett is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she’s soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers–and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield. Can Elizabeth vanquish the spawn of Satan? And overcome the social prejudices of the class-conscious landed gentry? Complete with romance, heartbreak, swordfights, cannibalism, and thousands of rotting corpses, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies transforms a masterpiece of world literature into something you’d actually want to read. (From the back jacket)

The book also includes a few illustrations of “zombie mayhem,” as well as a Reader’s Discussion Guide that begins with this question:

1. Many critics have addressed the dual nature of Elizabeth’s personality. On one hand, she can be a savage, remorseless killer, as we see in her vanquishing of Lady Catherine’s ninjas. On the other hand, she can be tender and merciful, as in her relationships with Jane, Charlotte, and the young bucks that roam her family’s estate. In your opinion, which of these “halves” best represents the real Elizabeth at the beginning–and end of the novel?