The stories in Mary Gaitskill’s Don’t Cry reflect characters who are profoundly vexed, but not in a profound way. I Unmitigated, Unreadable Despair
The stories in Mary Gaitskill’s Don’t Cry reflect characters who are profoundly vexed, but not in a profound way. It seems that Ms. Gaitskill has contrived both them and their situations with the simple goal of shocking her reader. The stories are visceral, yes, but they lack substance, and the fact that Gaitskill herself seems to harbor nothing but disdain for her characters makes it impossible for the reader to feel anything for them either. That’s all that there is to this collection – a shame, because Gaitskill does seem like a talented writer, albeit one whose brain I would never want to pick over coffee. By the halfway point I began questioning the point in slogging through the rest of the collection, and when I was about seventy-five percent through I gave up. This is not something that I typically do. Yet I have no regrets.
I had decided to read this collection because I was interested in reading Gaitskill’s novel Veronica. Emphasis on was. Instead, I’ll be looking for a writer with a touch of empathy, whose goal is not to shock and appall for no purpose other than the joy of having shocked and appalled.
I'm going to be honest with you: I didn't finish this book. Don't thOlympic Melodrama Doesn't Even Make the Podium
I can't with this one. I just can't.
I'm going to be honest with you: I didn't finish this book. Don't think I ever will. The plot is nothing but ham-fisted emotional manipulation with poor writing, and it's insulting.
You have Kate and Zoe, two female cyclists getting ready for their final Olympics. Zoe inexplicably has rock-star athlete status and a tabloid lifestyle thanks to her previous gold medals. This is inexplicable because, really, put Lance Armstrong to the side and name one other cyclist--current or retired. Can't do it, can you? Thought so. Anyway, Zoe has dedicated everything to her craft. She's succeeded and wants one last gold medal before saying goodbye to the sport that has defined her life.
Then there's Kate. Despite the fact that she's naturally talented (probably even better than Zoe), Kate has no gold medals and no fame. While Zoe sacrificed her life for her career, Kate has repeatedly had to give up her career for her life. She has a husband and a daughter with leukemia (more on that later). Her daughter Sophie has indirectly kept her from the Olympics twice (first by being born, then by having her first bout of leukemia). Now Kate has her last shot at Olympic glory and what do you know, Sophie's leukemia is having a recurrence. Will she once again have to put her dream to the side? I choose to ignore her husband as much as possible, because his wooden presence and connection to both Zoe and Kate (which is not as shocking or as revelatory as the author seems to think it is) was nothing short of a snoozefest.
There's something going on between Kate, Zoe, and Jack (probably relating to an affair), but it's really too bothersome to care.
I might have accepted the cliched set-up, the stock characters, the mediocre writing, the reliance on cheap gimmicks to get the reader emotionally involved instead of actual character development--but the Sophie angle was my breaking point. It's a bridge too far to use a dying child to wring tears out of your readers. Emotional manipulation never sits well with me anyway, but this was particularly egregious. One could argue that Sophie raises the stakes for Kate, but in the end this character doesn't exist to teach you a life lesson or to further the plot; she exists to make you feel sad. There are real sick kids in the world, and they deserve better than to be reduced to a clumsily cloying presence in trifle like this. Sophie vomiting into her beloved Millennium Falcon toy to try to hide her sickness from her parents was the moment I broke up with Gold. It's a horrifying moment, to be sure, but it exemplifies what's terribly wrong with this book: it's an emotional reaction Cleave is exploiting, not earning. And, to me at least, it's beyond grotesque.
"Our blood is the same, we just use it differently."
The Sisters Brothers reads like a rampage. It's compulsively readable in the way the best potboile"Our blood is the same, we just use it differently."
The Sisters Brothers reads like a rampage. It's compulsively readable in the way the best potboilers are; I tore through it in no time at all. It tells the story of Eli and Charlie Sisters, two vicious gunslingers known for their effectiveness and ruthlessness. But en route to San Francisco to locate Herman Kermit Warm (their latest target), Eli starts to think about how he wants a different life. The bloody end of their last job seems to have unmoored him. "It came over me all at once then: I was not an efficient killer. I was not and had never been and would never be. Charlie had been able to make use of my temper was all; he had manipulated me, exploited my personality, just as a man prods a rooster"
Well, Eli is, in fact, a killer. And a good one. But it is true that his life has been unduly influenced by his brother's ambitions, and as he begins to move toward creating his own life everything the brothers have built begins to unravel. It's a suspenseful, violent tale, but one with emotional resonance. Eli's dreams of settling down with a wife and maybe work as a clerk in a shirt store may sound ridiculous to his brother, but it comes from a sweet and genuine need in his heart: to live a normal life and be loved.
There's a great deal of literary heft to be found too, though it is easy to overlook as you race through the pages. There's a good reason that The Sisters Brothers was a finalist for the Mann Booker Prize last year. I think I'll have to read it again sometime to piece together my thoughts on the crying man who keeps turning up, the significance of the 'curse' Eli believes has been placed on him, and other such motifs. But the observations I did pick up on were measured and pin-sharp. Setting the novel in San Francisco during the gold rush was a nice touch; it was the perfect setting to showcase the ruins that come from avarice and corruption. The city is portrayed as a foundation of hope and, all too frequently, the arbiter of staggering despair. As in Cormac McCarthy, there are also religious flourishes here and there: "I felt San Francisco standing behind me but I never looked back and I thought, I did not enjoy my time here."
But there's a burning hope for the future, too, and that is where The Sisters Brothers really shines for me. "Though I had never before pondered the notion of humanity, or whether I was happy or unhappy to be human, I now felt a sense of pride at the human mind, its curiosity and perseverance." That this hope is seldom realized, that most dreams and hopes are created only to be cruelly murdered, is a bleak message. But when the message comes in the form of an enjoyable potboiler, it's hard to feel too bad about it. ...more