Sunday, January 14, 2007

Two Girls, Fat and Thin by Mary Gaitskill

Oh how I wish I could have kept this book out longer so that I could have quoted some of the fabulous sentences that made this story of the ramifications of sexual abuse, body image, sex and friendship so nasty and so subtly moving. Since I couldn’t, I will do my best to make you understand with my own words.

TGFT is about two women who meet by chance as interviewer and interviewee. Also one is fat (Dorothy) and the other is thin (Justine). Also they both were victims of childhood sexual abuse, Dorothy continually by her father, Justine in an isolated incident with a family friend. Now they are grown up and Justine is a freelance journalist in her spare time. She is writing an article about a female guru (the mother of “Definitism”, basically Ayn Rand in a purple cape) and meets Dorothy through an ad in a laundromat looking for sources that were close to the guru. The two paths that their lives took before meeting and how their lives changed after are the focus of TGFT, though the latter part is really never quite fleshed out and left as a tantalizing what if. Will they heal each other or just act out the betrayal that marks their past?

Gaitskill is adept at spinning out creepy situations that hook you; by placing utterly visceral images in scenes of, oh let’s say, violent S&M sex, that compel you to remember (and admire her craft) in spots that many people would be embarrassed to admit they paid attention to. She talks about “holes.” She brings the reader into a world of women that is dark, angry and pained in a way that doesn’t call attention to itself, but is not dismissive or patronizing toward women who understand because they have lived it. Bodies haunt the prose in all their wet, nasty, lovely and confusing glory. The novel is told from both women’s POV, but Dorothy easily dominates the narrative. Gaitskill gives her great insight that is only limited by pride and fear, and during the passages that remember Dorothy’s time with the cult, Gaitskill gives really develops her character—unpleasant, stubborn and (for me, grudgingly) sympathetic.

Despite all the darkness and bodily fluids, this book is enjoyable. It is funny and clever and probing. My biggest beef was that it seems that Gaitskill has never been to Philadelphia. Not a crime in of itself, but it is an issue when you set part of the book there. Gaitskill's riff on Rand and her philosophy is fun and unexpected. I never could understand what all the Rand rage was about among some especially annoying teens (I found her books besides The Fountainhead unreadable) and TGFT made me glad of that.

TGFT is a first novel but I don’t know that that shows, except in a lack of a strong plot. I want to read more Gaitskill, but after a pause. Any suggestions?


moonlight ambulette said...

yes! gaitskill. i read veronica recently and enjoyed it, i guess. i mean, i admired it. it's hard to enjoy -- makes you feel so squicky and unsettled. she writes about sex like no one else, and makes it sound so...violent and menacing.

fun stuff.

you can borrow my copy if you want!

the prog lady said...

this is funny because I've been meaning to suggest Gaitskill to you for a few months now, but I always forget. You're welcome to borrow / have my copy of 'Bad Behavior.' It's a good collection of short stories.

Carrie said...

Are you guys fighting over me?

Don't, ladies, don't! There is enough of me for everyone.

I will borrow and read both of your nasty sex books and we can even have some private discussion time about them later...