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Bookmarks Issue: 
41-July-Aug-2009
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Stories

A-Dont CryCritically acclaimed author Mary Gaitskill’s short stories have appeared in the New Yorker, Esquire, Harper’s Magazine, and The Best American Short Stories collections; her novel Veronica (2005) was a finalist for the National Book Award. Don’t Cry is her third collection of short stories.

The Story: The 10 stories gathered here take readers on a strange and dizzying ride through the shadowy regions of the subconscious mind. In "The Little Boy," a widow returning from a visit with her standoffish adult daughter rediscovers the joys of marriage and motherhood in a busy airport. A soldier wrestles with his experience in Iraq as he rides a train bound for Syracuse in "The Arms and Legs of the Lake." The title story follows a middle-aged college professor as she accompanies a friend to Africa to adopt a baby. In each story, Gaitskill’s embittered characters struggle to find comfort, and even love, amid the wreckage of disappointment, betrayal, and alienation.
Pantheon. 226 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 0375424199

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Gaitskill crosses a continent in this collection, with the boundaries on one side being ‘a gross hash of sorrow and desire,’ and on the other a haunting longing to love and be loved. In these later stories, Gaitskill seems to have traveled through a lifetime of perception, moving in a progression from raw and violently sexualized to tender and regretful, with every character knowing the intimacy and exhaustion of sorrow." Meredith Hall

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"Gaitskill doesn’t always provide a happy picture, but her world is never dull. She doesn’t believe in coddling her readers. Why would she? Reality—her own dark and delightfully bitter version of it—is so much more interesting." Amy Driscoll

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"She has a perturbing ability to generate what seems as much a vivisection as a narrative, slicing through her characters to expose interior lives that are more often ‘broken or incomplete’ than in any way admirable. … Gaitskill writes with visceral power, with what sometimes feels like an exultantly destructive energy, and what she writes falls far outside the domestic realism readers have come to expect from female writers." Kathryn Harrison

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"The stories … veer away from the landscape of Gaitskill’s trademark themes of confronting marginalization and relationships through self-destruction, and instead move to broader themes about the search for identity. … The hallmark of Gaitskill’s strength as a writer is finding the intersection of the larger world and the personal world, and allowing us to watch them reveal themselves to one another." Adam Braver

Chicago Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In her new collection of short stories, Don’t Cry, her fifth book in two decades, Gaitskill is her old fearless self, lifting up the white lace doily that covers so many human experiences to reveal the skanky tangle underneath. … Not every story in this collection makes the grade." Julia Keller

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The collection doesn’t have the same cover-to-cover strength that Because They Wanted To had. Still, half the tales here are as fine as anything Gaitskill has ever done. And all of them push the boundaries of story possibility in one curious way or another." Michael Upchurch

South FL Sun-Sentinel 3.5 of 5 Stars
"While all of these stories are adroit, some have more juice than others. … If Don’t Cry finds Gaitskill older but wiser, it proves she’s lost none of her honesty or inventiveness. On the contrary, maturity suits her well." Chauncey Mabe

Critical Summary

Ranging from gritty realism to fanciful allegory, the stories in Don’t Cry push the boundaries of fiction in several directions. Populated by peculiar but always authentic characters with bizarre dreams and fantasies, Gaitskill’s stories lack conventional plots, timelines, and mounting suspense, but she keeps readers rapt with the promise of exposing the darkest recesses of human nature. The subtle balance between her spare, clinical prose and the uncomfortably private thoughts and feelings she brings to light give these stories their edge; yet intermittent moments of grace and hope keep her work accessible. Though critics disagreed over which stories were the best, they all praised her pitiless eye, psychological insight, and unsettling ability to turn readers into voyeurs.

Also by the Author

Veronica (2005): Alison, a middle-aged cleaning woman, recalls her days as a fashion model and her friendship with the doomed, unlikable Veronica. ( 3 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2006)