Stephanie's Reviews > Don't Cry

Don't Cry by Mary Gaitskill
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Nov 30, 09

really liked it
Read in November, 2009

I found these stories to be very moving. There are several unique female experiences throughout this collection. I like the way that Mary Gaitskill is able to so convincingly convey the thoughts and feelings of women in so many different situations at so many different times over the course of a woman's life. The title story, Don't Cry is the final short in the book. Its, of course, a sad story. In it, she is able to show us the minds of two very different women, in two very different places. The main character is a woman that was recently widowed by the much older man that she married. The supporting character is a woman that is sick of trying to find a man to spend her life with, and she has decided to travel to Ethiopia to adopt a baby. The story details their stay in a miserable, poor, foreign land and the obstacles they face through their quest. It also gives us a tantalizing glimpse of the main character before the journey and her life with her husband, specifically the time when she cared for him during the struggle with Alzheimer's Disease before it ultimately killed him.
College Town 1980 is a great story to open this collection with. I think the main character gripped me enough to see what else Gaitskill could do, to read each of these stories carefully. She's a young, crass, lonely and depressed college dropout, suffering through some sort of post-break-up-quarter-life-crisis. Throughout this story, she is trying to sort through the idiosyncrasies, gossip, jealousy, manipulations and cattiness of the females around her, as well as (I think, anyway) to gauge the presence of and tendencies toward these things in herself.
Though I really enjoyed Folk Song, An Old Virgin, The Agonized Face, and The Little Boy, the last story in this collection that I want to mention is Mirror Ball. It is about what could happen to two people after a one night stand. Unlike the plot of Knocked Up, there is no surprise pregnancy and there is no shotgun relationship or wedding or anything like that. The boy (inadvertently, of course) takes a part of the girl's soul. Its presence changes the nature of his soul. Its absence changes the nature of hers, but they are equally vulnerable while he retains this part of her soul. I find this story particularly touching because it delves into the realities that promiscuity can hold: the sex that is never all that it could be, the lack of fulfillment, the promise that one thinks one sees which never comes to fruition, the heartbreak and panic that comes when the encounter you'd been hoping would turn out so wonderfully doesn't even yield a follow up phone call. So many 20- and 30- somethings have experienced this, many from both sides of the narrative. Mary Gaitskill is able, in this story, to give the characters such emotional ambiguity that when reading, one is able to associate freely with the boy or the girl on an emotional level. I think this is important, since it allows the reader to view both characters with no stigma. The one-night-stand is on equal footing. The girl becomes vulnerable only when a piece of her soul leaves her and goes with the boy. She feels this emptiness and tries to reach out after he doesn't call. He is busy with another girl, promises they'll talk and then does not deliver. The piece of her soul that she leaves with him awakens a sleeping piece of his own soul, and then returns to her. They pass each other on the street a while later and afford each other a bare glimpse of recognition and a slight hello. It seemed as if nothing had ever happened between them.
This was my first time reading Mary Gaitskill. I will certainly be picking up one of her novels soon.
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