three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
20-Jan-Feb-2006
user_rating: 
0

A-VeronicaFormer runway model Alison Owen now flaunts a face that is "broken, with age and pain coming through the cracks." In her mid-50s, she lives on disability while fighting the insomnia, fevers, and chronic pain of hepatitis C. Her life story is told in hallucinogenic flashbacks, skipping from her modeling years in Paris and Manhattan in the 1980s to memories of the cynical older woman she met at a night-shift temp job. This woman is the titular Veronica, a very unbeautiful AIDS-infected bisexual who forms a powerful friendship with our narrator Alison.
Pantheon. 232 pages. $23. ISBN: 0375421459

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"A book about superficiality might easily be fueled by fumes. But in Gaitskill’s hands Veronica is a masterly examination of the relationship between surface and self, culture and fashion, time and memory." Meghan O’Rourke

Entertainment Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Don’t read this book for its disjointed plot, but for Mary Gaitskill’s sensuous yet precise language and her tough portrait of a bygone age." Jennifer Reese

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Imagine a buddy story from the mind of William S. Burroughs, illustrated with images by Robert Mapplethorpe or David Cronenberg, and you get some idea of the tenderness to be found here." Janet Maslin

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"Because Gaitskill is more interested in viscera than surfaces, the ratio of glitter to grit remains low even at the height of Alison’s success. … Veronica the book is like Veronica the character—tough, unapologetic, a little hard to take." Jennie Yabroff

Seattle Post-Intelligencer 3 of 5 Stars
"[A]n intense, yet flawed work of literary art, a disturbing showcase for [Gaitskill’s] unusual talents and style. … Veronica zaps here and there with Gaitskill’s acid riffs on many major themes: sex and death, beauty and ugliness, youth and age, attachment and detachment and even love and redemption (in its weirdly optimistic conclusion). What sticks with the reader, though, is this novel’s style more than its substance." John Marshall

Los Angeles Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Gaitskill’s plotting is frail; in effect, it is a series of opportunities to illustrate the lethal vanities of a generation. What follows is a gimpy fable." Richard Eder

Critical Summary

Ungainly. Gorgeously caustic. Full of celebrated repugnancies. Descriptions like these are not unusual for a Gaitskill novel. Even when writing about the fashion industry and its downside in this National Book Award finalist, Gaitskill (Two Girls, Fat and Thin, 1991) hones in on the dark, filthy underside of life. Unfortunately, the central friendship remains slightly out of focus throughout, and some critics faulted both the awkward structure and self-interested narrator. And while the Seattle critic calls the author "a pyrotechnician with words," the effect quickly turns numbing. Still, many reviewers were impressed. "Gaitskill’s brand of brainy lyricism, of acid shot through with grace, is unlike anyone else’s," says The New York Times Book Review. "And it constitutes some of the most incisive fiction writing around."