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Because They Wanted To

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  1,987 ratings  ·  137 reviews
From the author of Bad Behavior comes a new compilation of clever and cutting-edge stories propelling readers into a world of men and women where the ways of desire are sometimes distasteful and complex. Reprint.
Paperback, 256 pages
Published February 27th 1998 by Simon Schuster (first published 1997)
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3.93  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,987 ratings  ·  137 reviews

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Jan 09, 2008 rated it liked it
The first 40-50 pages of Mary Gaitskill's writing that I read was a lot of fun - I was nodding along and "oh my god, totally" -ing with her descriptions of uncertain people in uncertain situations. So then I went on a Mary Gaitskill binge - I read everything she wrote, and realized that I was re-reading those 40-50 pages over and over again, with different names (but similar characters) in slightly different situations. I can't recall a single short story or character because they're all cut fro ...more
Allison Floyd
"Today the clerk in the fancy deli next door asked me how I was, and I said, 'I have deep longings that will never be satisfied.'"

Oh, Mary Gaitskill, you always do this to me. You begin a story like that, and it's brave and honest and true, and then I realize...

I'm shallow. And your stories are depressing. Sure there's a truckload of insight at work here, and occasionally dark humor rears its head, but really, these stories conjure dust bunnies sulking on dull linoleum. Transfixing dust bunnies,
Aug 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
Not as good as Don't Cry, but still wonderful. Pardon the cliched language but Gaitskill's writing really brings you into the ether through the abyss. It is lurid and sublime and can be heartbreaking in a bunch of ways you never really experienced as a reader. A real Romantic rooted in the physical aspect of existence. You emerge from the filth knowing that Love Is Real.

In my experience there is no living author who can write music or sex like Mary Gaitskill, which makes perfect sense. She has
Jan 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Mary Gaitskill is probably best known among the general public as the author of the short story the movie Secretary is based on, to the extent that hers is a familiar name beyond circles of serious readers. While I did enjoy the film, its whitewashing of Gaitskill's story is symptomatic of her undervaluation as a literary artist ("Secretary" the short story ends with a mutual spurning, rather than an increasingly less equivocal human connection among S&M partners). Her work is often almost u ...more
May 17, 2009 rated it liked it
I was so conflicted about this book. I really wanted to like it, but there were a few things that I had a hard time getting past. On the positive side, the author's skill is not in question--she is in a class by herself when describing her characters' innermost thoughts. As a reader, it was nice to feel as if I was discovering an overt fact about the character, when in actuality, the true nature of the character was revealed through subtext. Also, Gaitskill reminds me of Checkov in how detached ...more
The copy I borrowed from the library has some great marginalia:
'oh come on!'
'an example of "good writing" + boring'

This collection of stories is peopled with lonely, unsure, emotionally stunted characters who don’t know how to reach out and form sustaining connections with others. That’s not to say that the characters are unrealistic or even unlikeable. Perhaps reading several stories at a time heightened my awareness of how these men and women clutch at cruelty, indifference, and aggression as
Aug 20, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I find it curious that the author gets criticized for being rough or unsentimental when her characters are so clearly awash in the complex & conflicted impulses of living.

Her clean, precise writing style works so well against the emotional intensity of the stories. Like trying to be analytical amidst a panic attack.
Ben Bush
I'd read the first short story from this collection "Tiny Smiling Daddy" in an anthology and hadn't really been into it but ended up at a reading of hers recently and was super-impressed. It was clear as she read how emotionally engaged she was in her work and during the Q&A she managed to turn really dumb questions into fascinating thoughtful answers, which is such a great skill for that kind of situation. She was polite and almost seemed fragile until someone said something she disagreed w ...more
Jul 27, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended by Emily, who suggested that I check out the story "The Dentist," after my recent flurry of dental activity. I also had a mild crush on my wholesome cosmetic dentist, but I never went on a date with him. In fact, he referred me to his wife, who is also a cosmetic dentist, and is a gorgeous blond. If this happened in a Mary Gaitskill story, it would have been more fucked up and sexual.

The story "Because They Wanted To" is about babysitting. I also babysit, for an infant, but again, m
Alyssa Knickerbocker
Aug 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
People always use the word "depraved" to describe Mary Gaitskill's characters... there's definitely a lot of really beautiful language describing really disturbing scenarios. I felt sort of impressed and unsettled and driven to write after finishing this. Favorite story: "The Blanket," which follows a twisty little path into a relationship that moves through lust and role playing and intimacy and always seems to be about to send someone over a cliff.
The final story/novella was really good. It's strange because Gaitskill is very articulate in describing minute interaction/transaction between humans but then also communicates how despite this specificity the interactions almost always breed a sense of confusion or ambiguity.
Jul 27, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
this book has a lot of disturbing issues. gaitskill writes in a clear, defined, and blunt manner which made me unnerved at times.
Feb 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Scene, dialogue, detail, description. . . . sometimes I want to shake people in my writing workshops and say, "This is how it's done. Read this book five times and then try again."
Jan 01, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommended to Jamie by: Gregory
Shelves: short-stories
Gaitskill has a peculiar imagination-and an inescapably erotic one. While reading, often this erotic charge pulsing through her work was disturbing, invasive. At others, I'll admit I was a bit turned on. I wouldn't say it's for the light of heart; she's frank, she explicit, and she's seemingly obsessed with victor/victim (dominant/submissive) interactions. What I found fascinating about this obsession with sexual powerplays, though, was that Gaitskill's images and style often reflected this idea ...more
Feb 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I don't normally love short stories because I love becoming attached to characters and really investing myself in a story, but I gotta say I loved this collection. I've thought of actually getting my book club to read it, but I think our heads might explode trying to comprehend and unravel this work. I don't think this is a book that you really get unless you've read it a couple of times, so I'm unsure how I feel about some of the stories. I found certain aspects of these people's lives haunting ...more
Oct 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Cari by: Cara
Mary Gaitskill has an incredible talent for putting into writing intimate and often perhaps best-left-unrevealed thoughts, urges, emotions. The stories of "Because They Wanted To" were incredibly well-written, thought-provoking and - I found - painful, taken in full. Gaitskill frequently writes the way I feel somehow, which convinced me that even when the thoughts expressed were not mine, they are nonetheless real. I've never read such raw emotion, I don't think, except for The Golden Notebook b ...more
May 16, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
"...securely held by the warm night and its sounds, he felt an exquisite blend of happiness and sorrow that life could contain this perfect moment, and a sadness that he would soon arrive home, walk into bright light, and be on his way into the next day with its noise and alarming possibility" (21).
"The baby looked at Elise solemnly and then drew her gaze inward as she returned to the business of creating a person who could survive in the world" (39).
"He had not been in his brother's suburban ho
Abe Brennan
May 17, 2007 rated it really liked it
Mary Gaitskill treats us to an array of flawed folk in this somewhat-seesawing-but-by-and-large-accomplished collection of short fiction. Ms. Gaitskill’s preoccupation is with the interior, and here we see her traversing the mindscapes of her characters with verisimilitudinous deftness. Although at times Ms. Gaitskill seems like she’s trying a tad too hard to wring something original from her prose, at others she transcends mere cogency and/or the corporeal via a blend of improbable metaphor and ...more
Kayla Perry
In general I liked what Gaitskill had to say with the exception of her last story which was comprised of three parts. One theme I especially noticed in this one (though aspects of it showed up in other stories) was her exploitation of lesbian relationships. Time and again, her depictions of lesbians were limited to BDSM, cutting, and roleplay violence. It also depicted lesbians making out with each other even while dating somebody else. Being a lesbian myself, I found it extremely off-putting th ...more
Apr 26, 2008 rated it it was ok
Moments of brilliance, some wonderful, quirky writing, but overall I felt like the collection beat relationship writing and really bizarre protagonist interiority to death. Much of the stories' action was told as remembered or recanted to the protagonists friends via phone or in person.

Frankly, a lot of times I felt bored and found myself flipping to the end of stories to see how much longer I had to endure them, which isn't a good sign. I finished and had the urge to try to sell my book, but i
Kye Alfred Hillig
Nov 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
Mary Gaitskill has a notable understanding of the evils of the female mind. All of her characters are sickeningly self interested, almost to the point where you wonder if she is like her stories. If she is, I hope I never meet her. All of the stories in this book are based around different female characters who are essentially the same. An ultra sexual woman who likes to talk about her sexuality as if it's the morning news. Her characters talk about sex so much that you start to hate anything se ...more
May 03, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who are not easily disturbed
I've written before about the fact that Mary Gaitskill is one of my favorite authors. She still is, but this book of short stories is really intense. One review on the cover says that they are too rich for one sitting, but too compelling not to read in one sitting. I definitely agree. Gaitskill often writes about S/M, sexual abuse, people with intimacy issues, people suffering from illness, etc etc etc. In one novel, you will get a lot of in-depth investigation of any characters "issue," but you ...more
Aug 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 80s-90s
Another masterpiece collection from a writer who may arguably be one day considered Flannery O'Connor's successor. I'd read most of these stories in the magazines they were originally published in, but to read them one after the other, in the same volume, is a treat. Her signature clarity and her ruthless vision is as tight and visionary as ever but, years afterwards, there is a certain loosening of the spirit, as if Gaitskill, while perhaps still viewing human nature as nothing short of deviant ...more
Jun 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
Basically a continuation of Bad Behavior. The best way I can describe the stories is to say that even the one that ends happily involves a rape fantasy (I feel gross just typing that). But Gaitskill is a fantastically talented writer with a great gift for what lies beneath the surface of interpersonal relationships--especially the sadomasochistic ones. There's a lot of assholes out there, and somebody's gotta write about them...
Jan 10, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
The writing here is pretty good, and the character development is decent. I mostly disliked these stories because they express a particularly ugly and pretentious view of the world and women's relationships in it. These stories left me uncomfortable without teaching me anything. I feel like some of the discomforting aspects were added more for shock value than for any literary purpose. I don't recommend these stories.
May 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
She's in a tortured,illuminating duet with
Leonard Cohen and his "There is a war between the
man and the woman. There is a war between those
who say there is a war, and those who say there
isn't..." And a stand-out voice in a chorus
with Freud and a bunch of others who peek and poke
at our psyches.
Dec 12, 2007 added it
Recommends it for: short story aficionados, people with hearts
gaitskill sifts through characters' memories in ways that at first seem a tad cliche, "i-know-where-this-is-going", but invariably veer elsewhere. heartbreaking, gutwrenching, etc. (whatever happened to those toddlers???) these stories tell me to cut off my tongue whenever i feel the urge to diss narrative realism.
Sue Bridehead (A Pseudonym)
There is something about Mary Gaitskill's emotional precision that I find off-putting and scientific. Her stories are also very similar to each other, so that they meld into one long montage of bisexual damaged academics going to apartment parties and having regretful sex. I'm not too compelled to read more of her work. I can't relate in any way to anything any of these people purport to feel.
Anna North
May 30, 2007 rated it really liked it
There's a story in this collection in which a woman at a bad party finally feels joy and connection when she lets her hand rest on the roll of fat at her friend's waist. I'm afraid I have made this sound creepy. It is actually great.
Rose Gowen
Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I regret the stupid years I spent not-reading Mary Gaitskill.
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Mary Gaitskill is an American author of essays, short stories and novels. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, Esquire, The Best American Short Stories (1993 and 2006), and The O. Henry Prize Stories (1998). She married writer Peter Trachtenberg in 2001. As of 2005, she lived in New York City; Gaitskill has previously lived in Toronto, San Francisco, and Marin County, CA, as ...more
“She disapproved, but part of her seemed secretly to sympathize with the sickness. It was like she thought everybody had it, and the best you could do was to cover it up, and sometimes it would just come boiling out anyway. Then you had to point at it and condemn it, even though you knew you had it too.” 4 likes
“Today the clerk in the fancy deli next door asked me how I was, and I said, 'I have deep longings that will never be satisfied.” 3 likes
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