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Bad Behavior

3.9  ·  Rating details ·  5,450 Ratings  ·  484 Reviews
Powerful stories of dislocation, longing and desire which depict a disenchanted and rebellious urban fringe generation that is groping for human connection. (Or, more simply put, the angst of people-who-wear-black.)
Paperback, 203 pages
Published 1988 by Poseidon Press
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Mickey I read it when I was 14, and it was way too adult for me. But then again, it didn't scar me for life. I think the only story that she's ever written…moreI read it when I was 14, and it was way too adult for me. But then again, it didn't scar me for life. I think the only story that she's ever written that does not have any X-rated details would be "Tiny Smiling Daddy", the first story in "Because They Wanted To". I'd probably wait to share the rest until she was around 25, and then only if you are not related to her. (It would be weird to be given a Mary Gaitskill book by your male relative at any age, IMO.)(less)
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So, lately I’ve been in a bit of an aggressive, combative mood... like I’ve been picking fights, or hoping that someone will instigate an argument so I can verbally “cut a bitch.” I’ve even gone so far as to go out in public* with the hope that someone will be rude to me, so I’ll have an excuse to lash out. I know I probably sound like a lunatic, and maybe I am. I probably need to be in Rageaholics Anonymous ( or at the very least, I should be sedated. An ...more
While walking back from the laundrymat (because this is a thing New Yorkers do, we walk our laundry home after doing it (it being laundry, not "it", I'm not the sort of person who does base things like that). I don't know why I'm saying that, maybe just to feel like I could be part of the social-world (twenty some odd years too late, maybe, that these stories take place) I started thinking about writing a review for this book. The walk isn't very long so I didn't think much about it. I thought o ...more
Jun 27, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
After reading entirely too many phalocentric books recently I’ve decided to commence my “I am woman HEAR ME ROAR” summer and read only female writers for the next three months.

I’m on my sixth female writer and so far I’ve encountered “Why roar when the man will take credit for it anyway?”, “What’s the point of roaring when no one pays attention to me anyway?”, “I’d roar if the men would do something for me”, “Ro..., wait never mind.” and “All men want is open legs and closed mouths”. I’m still
Paul Bryant
Mary Gaitskill is a bad writer. This is from page 176:

'Have I upset you?' asked Deana.
'No, no.' Connie looked up. 'I understand what you're saying,
but that wasn't the case with Alice. I never acted vulnerable
around her. And actually I don't really agree with you. I may
have done that to you because I responded to you sexually, but in general, I don't.'
Deana shrugged. 'Well, I only know what I've seen. I'm just
trying to come up with an answer for you because you seem so
distressed.' She stood and c
Ben Loory
Nov 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
fuckin a
his book, with its iconic paperback cover (a woman facedown, possibly falling, maybe pounding at the floor) was in every college dorm bookshelf in the late 1980's/early 1990's. If you wanted to be a writer, you read Gaitskill's pitch-black, edgy, creepy tales about men and women behaving badly, and you wondered if this was the real world, or just an especially dark version of it.
Jenny Napolitano
Apr 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to remain my friend
I know I'm late in coming around on the Mary Gaitskill bandwagon. But it's so much better to come late than to not come at all. (No pun intended.) I started reading this book having only read one of her stories before ("Secretary," obviously), but knowing that she dealt with the territory I've begun writing about lately. It was difficult, because I stopped writing the story I'd been working on for months after starting this - because I felt at the time I couldn't ever write a sweet/erotic/charac ...more
Apr 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have always preferred wine over beer. And then I had sour beer, and I fell in love. I skipped dating, the awkwardness of that first sex, and went straight to love. I have always preferred the novel over short stories. And then I read Mary Gaitskill’s “Bad Behavior,” and I fell in love. Gaitskill turns me on. But, not like you think. She is deliberate, and masterful in her use of language, often her sentences were dizzying in their effect upon me. Several times I found myself jarred from my rea ...more
May 22, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who want to look naughty but not really be naughty
Shelves: smut, 2013
I found this book on a list of the ten sexiest books of all time, and I should have known as soon as I saw Tropic of Cancer that the author was confusing "sexy" with "containing sex", but this contains the story that spawned the movie "Secretary"! Which I don't know if you've seen that but it's sexy.

These are not, in any case, sexy stories. They're vignettes about relationships, set in sexy contexts. So the story about the lady who hooks on the side turns out to be more about one of her relation
Apr 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: newer-fiction
God, how I love the story "Heaven" in Mary Gaitskill's collection Bad Behavior. I re-read it last night, twice, about five years after first discovery. Re-reading some favorite short stories lately, it's been funny to realize the gaps between how I remember them and how they really are. I recalled "Heaven" as a short story that mostly describes a middle-aged mom at a barbecue, sitting in a plastic chair with meat- and food-juices dripping down her face, remembering the lives of her grown-up chil ...more
Apr 19, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This collection of stories is difficult to pin down effectively enough to give a rating to. I finally settled at four stars because the writing is so jaw-droppingly good overall. Although some of the characters and stories are deeply disturbing, they jump off the page and the writing never acquires the 'this is going to shock you' feel that you might anticipate. The stories do shock you, but Gaitskill allows the characters and their dingy, drug-filled, sexually unfulfilled, disenchanted lives an ...more
Ian Scuffling
A lot of realist writing, especially of short stories, in the '80s fell in to a trap of capturing small moments in economic prose, trusting that the economy of language and the quaintness of scene pack a wallop of emotion--a kind of Hemingway-ian philosophy, I think. Take for instance the closing moments of the ultimate story in Bad Behavior where Gaitskill paints the image of what's left of the family sitting down to dinner of steak and pasta, where the patriarch remarks that this is "just like ...more
May 03, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd only read "A Romantic Weekend" before this collection, which disturbed me and which I still feel is a straight-up horror story. I was expecting Mary Gaitskill's writing to smack of that experienced-but-not-very-self-aware vibe one sometimes gets from girls who feel smug because they've "lived on the edge" or whatever, e.g. "Oh, I've SEEN some things. I've been to DARK places". Gaitskill's clearly too smart for that, though: her stories never hint at judgment in one direction or another, neit ...more
Jan 21, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2010
I find myself landing squarely on the fence for this collection - there were three stories I really admired ("Daisy's Valentine", "Secretary", and "Heaven"), a couple I actively disliked ("Something Nice", "An Affair, Edited"), the others left me largely unmoved. This was primarily due to the general anomie and lack of affect that hangs over so many of Gaitskill's characters like a toxic miasma. It's not that people like this don't exist - the combination of narcissism and ennui that Gaitskill p ...more
Clare Marie
I can't figure out why I'm not enjoying this book more. Its characters are just what I love in an indulgent read: privileged young New Yorkers with coke habits, Soho lofts and ennui. And I don't want to say it's that it doesn't feel original and instead seems rehashed, like I've read the same story but better...because I have a feeling she was on the forefront of giving voice to these loft-having, coke-snorting urbanites...but it just doesn't have the freshness I was hoping for. I'm only about f ...more
Aug 12, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Maia by: Kristin L. Hart
Shelves: 80s-90s
The first Mary Gaitskill stories--including the famous 'Secretary' of the James Saper infamous movie of same name--and in many ways, her very bets writing. IMHO, Gaitskill has few rivals in modern American short story writing. Not only is she fearless (even ruthless) in her examination of life, human nature and existence itself, but her mastery of the form, her choice of words, her collection of sentences, is simply stunning.

Years ago, I was lucky enough to have her as a visiting professor in co
Erin Rouleau
Nov 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't know why it's taken me 34 years to discover some very essential things about myself, the most obvious to others, but it has. This book sort of follows that thought, except it's more precise and well written and cuts straight down the middle of things. It's truly about bad behavior and in that, mostly about sex or prostitution of sorts, and I don't relate to the behavior per se, or more the situations, but I relate to these women (mostly). The writing is so astute. There's a sentence or a ...more
Jen Knox
Jul 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have to say that I am shocked to have enjoyed this collection as much as I did. Because I have read Gaitskill's other works, often twice, I did not expect as much from her older work. This book, however, had a certain raw honesty that grabs a reader by the neck and shakes gently, teasingly, and never squeezes too hard. Broaching the, urm, unpleasantness of prostitution and aimless sexual relationships, Gaitskill drops the small realizations felt by characters who are drowning in the muck, but ...more
Annabel H M
Dec 13, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Annabel H M by: my list
Sure, well-written I suppose, but unpleasant subject matter and hard-to-like characters made this a tough read regardless.
I'm not big on short stories and I found this demonstrated why: content became repetitive as we kept harking back to the same themes and the author's axe was ground on a minimal variety of topics.
It gave me the same uncomfortableness that a novel like "The Corrections" did, but with much less sense of the absurd and any levity that could come from that.

In summary, 'WHAMPP WHA
Nov 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a very intimate book that felt good to wallow in for a few weeks. You know that feeling you get after you’ve been dumped by someone you were intensely in love with where you are so miserable and sad and it feels like something is gnawing at your guts and you’re never going to get your shit together? These stories feel nothing like that. These stories feel like what comes AFTER that, when it’s just suddenly over and you feel numb and a little hollow and are skeptical of anyone who shows ...more
Chrissi Sepe
Oct 28, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
All the stories in this collection are related by a common theme of people longing for connection with either semi-strangers or with someone from their past who doesn't care to ever see them again. Every character has been let down by life. Gaitskill's forte is creating extremely believable characters and writing about people's private lives the way they really are, not according to their social facade. She writes in a simple, raw, sometimes gritty, style, but there are deep meanings underneath. ...more
Annabeth Leong
I bought this collection of short stories for the exploration of sex and relationships that it promised (the back cover copy claims its territory "is the bedrooms of the urban fringe, where tenderness melds with cruelty and pornography with romance"). However, its treatment of non-sexual relationships between women turned out to be what grabbed me the most.

My initial expectation was certainly justified. The book turns out to contain "Secretary," the story on which the Maggie Gyllenhaal movie is
Apr 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thought this book was profound, intriguing, and original in the choice of subject matter. Her characters are frail, vulnerable, and make bad decisions which threaten to swallow them whole at a later point in time. You feel the isolation of Gaitskill's characters, both from other people and from their true selves, in a cold and unforgiving urban environment. In "Trying to Be", Stephanie becomes a prostitute out of contempt for boring office work. Despite her attempts to neatly separate her work ...more
Allan MacDonell
May 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’ve spent an entirety of less than thirty days in New York City, the central location of the transgressions in Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior, but I am intimately acquainted with each and every feckless hero and heroine. One of Gaitskill’s uncanny strengths is in pinpointing and personalizing the defining frailties that flitter around the outskirts and hunker down at the center of every living wounded personality. The kids and middle-aged adolescents acting out in Bad Behavior are in the moment ...more
Jamilla Rice
If this book was indeed the source of inspiration for "Girls", I know that I was correct in my decision not to watch the show. This collection of short stories was well-written, incredibly so, but the content and the lack of "there" there, the emptiness of it all, was disconcerting to me. I am sure that was what Gaitskill was trying to capture--the lack of foundation or the semblance of security that we feel that we have in our lives, yet life finds a way to constantly put you in your place, let ...more
Erica Harmon
Mar 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I picked this up on a whim, and it ended up being one of those collections of short stories I just couldn't stop thinking about. The blurb on the back made it sound like a bunch of perverse, self absorbed adults muddling through life, and maybe it was, but I think the reason it resonated with me was that it really captured/capitalized on a voyeurism that I don't usually indulge. Head cases abound, and while I never "saw" myself in the characters, there were sublime moments when I just understood ...more
Tim Jones-yelvington
I still have a story and a half to finish, but I feel ready to jot a quick review. Mary Gaitskill writes deft characterizations and observations. I especially appreciate her depiction of how the dissolution of close friendships can haunt us as much or more than past romantic relationships. Although I am not a woman, most of my past friendships have been with women, and I find myself obsessing over the loss of these friendships (or betrayal or disappointment within these friendships) in very simi ...more
Jan 29, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: sexually cruel NY depressives and egg afficiandos
If you are going to write a whole book of short stories all starring the exact same depressed people having regrettable sex with each other and eating eggs at least put in some boobies.

Where the boobies at?

Seriously, take a drink every time a character eats an egg. They eat them scrambled, fried, in an omelette, and a la Benedict. Its only silver lining is that The Secretary came out of this-- kind of a nothing story-- but awesome movie! Instead of spending two hours reading this just watch tha
Janet Berkman
Meh. These stories were written in the 80s and are mainly about depressed young women in New York or Chicago having unhappy sex of one form or another. Sort of a downer Sex and the City. I frankly wanted to slap some of these gals and tell them to get it together. I was the same age as most of these women when the stories were written and I just couldn't identify in the least (not that that matters). Two stars because Gaitskill can write, but the subject matter just turned me off.
May 12, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes I do not understand critical acclaim. Depressing in a boring and predictable way. I don't get why simply having the premise "Everyone is awful" earns one so much praise. We get it, Hamlet, move on. I expected more from the title and the author's supposedly feminist lens...but I felt very little of any lens at all, save the "cool girl" writing about "the TRUTH, man". As for Secretary...the film was better.
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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
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“At times she had thought that this was the only kind of connection you could have with people—intense, inexplicable and ultimately incomplete.” 23 likes
“She was delicately morbid in all her gestures, sensitive, arrogant, vulnerable to flattery. She veered between extravagant outbursts of opinion and sudden, uncertain halts, during which she seemed to look to him for approval. She was in love with the idea of intelligence, and she overestimated her own. Her sense of the world, though she presented it aggressively, could be, he sensed, snatched out from under her with little or no trouble. She said, “I hope you are a savage.” 12 likes
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