So I took the 44 bus from Market St. in Ballard to Roosevelt and 45th in the U District and then walked up 2 blocks to 50th where the U Branch of the Public Library is located. Consistent with the high regard in which the world of letters is held, the venue was a basement room with about 75 seats. Surprisingly to the organizers, about a hundred people showed up, of all ages, men and women. I think Gaitskill's writing about sex interested the men. Getting the real dope on women. Prostitution, Lesbian S & M, etc. I don’t find her writing erotic. But maybe women are drawn to that aspect of her work, too. The men came across as very chummy and knowing with her in their questioning about where she got her ideas and so on.
One man I noticed on the bus going there was an African American wearing dreads and cowrie shell jewelry; I think he was a man though androgynous or perhaps transgender. He was on his way to the reading, too. Afterwards, on the way back, he sat down beside me and we talked over the event. He teased me because my cell phone (set on loud) went off right in the middle of her reading from "Folk Song", a story from her new collection, Don’t Cry. Kindly, he said that usually they remind people to turn off their cell phones. I asked him if he had read Don’t Cry and he said no although he had read all her other books. “This recession has got me by the balls. Pardon me.” I said, “That’s OK, if Mary Gaitskill can use all those words, so can you.” I thought he was very nice, and talking to him made me aware of the many possibilities in life that being who I am, where I am, and leading the life I do precluded. As Terry likes to put it, “You can’t dance at all the weddings.”
I can understand Gaitskill’s erotic appeal, though only in an intellectual way. She is slender, demure, with a very nice bone structure, a fair and rosy unlined complexion, a suggestion of sensuality in her face, much prettier than she seems in her photographs. She wore a sweater and jeans and expensive shoes with heels. And then she opened her mouth and those dirty words come out. Her timing is superb and the impact of listening to all that about the serial murderer and the woman who had sex with 1,000 men and the turtles copulating was quite something! In that nice lady voice.
I bought her novel, Veronica, and the short story collection, Because They Wanted To.
The important thing about her, I think, is precisely that she is so daring while at the same time obviously disciplined and a good self manager. Not self destructive. What I like about her writing is the sheer “pleasure of the text,” a fancy way of saying I like reading her stuff.
I am really taking Susan Sontag’s admonitions against interpretation to heart. Why reduce every experience and every work of art to a set of symbols? Gaitskill, her work, hearing her read it, the pleasure I get from reading it: that is what counts.
More: I'm reading her early collection, Because They Wanted To and find it tedious and sometimes icky. No wonder she did not interest me sooner. I think her current work is far better, and I'll bet that she has yet to write her masterpieces. I'll write more after I've read through this book and Veronica. I get little pleasure from her insights in this earlier work that seem so deep yet meaningless.