Janice's Reviews > Bad Behavior

Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill
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did not like it
bookshelves: don-t-judge, neverfinished, kindling, do-not-resuscitate, i-love-new-york, nys-writer-s-institute

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 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkQ9uy...) or at the very least, I should be sedated. Anyway, none of my usual victims have been willing to engage with me... so I sought refuge in a trashy book I suspected I probably wasn’t going to like. I hate it when I’m right. (OK, not really, but for once I wanted to be wrong.)

This book originally piqued my interest because of its purported similarity to the HBO TV show Girls, and also because Mary Gaitskill is scheduled to appear at a local college in a couple of weeks for a reading/book signing. For these reasons I decided to step outside of my admittedly narrow comfort zone, and give this a try.

So, what started out as a mild distaste with a pinch of schadenfruede eventually devolved into a full on hate-read. For the uninitiated, the hate-read, which is analogous to its more ubiquitous and slutty cousin, the hate-fuck, is an activity wherein one disseminates written content with the distinct objective of deriding it. (http://jezebel.com/5876891/the-art-of...) For me, this activity is normally limited to certain websites I peruse on the internet (e.g., xojane, jezebel, the NY Times style section, obscene chewing, the comments in Above the Law). Thus, I have never hate-read an actual book, until this one.

So let’s get to a substantive discussion of the stories, shall we? Gaitskill is perhaps best known for her short story Secretary, which is featured in this collection - and was made into a movie starring James Spader and Maggie Gyllenahaal. I don’t have anything to say about that story, because I didn’t actually read it. I got about half way through the collection, and couldn’t escape the feeling of déjà vu. I realized that the same two stories kept repeating themselves interchangeably. Dig it: depressive, college-educated, bohemian, aspiring writer, becomes a prostitute and her favorite client falls in love with her. Hilarity ensues. Then there’s its inverse: depressive, married, middle class, john falls in love with his favorite prostitute. Tragedy ensues. Then there’s also, the depressive, college-educated, bohemian, aspiring writer in an abusive relationship with a total prick, disguised as an S&M relationship. Humiliation ensues. You get the idea.

Even in those descriptions, I feel like I’m giving Gaitskill too much credit. The stories were dull, trite, and meaningless. And I feel like the elements of promiscuity, drugs, sex, S&M, were all included merely as a gimmick;** or to provide some shock value as a distraction from what amounts to truly bad writing. To wit:

“I love you,” said Sara.
“It’s not real,” he said. “It’s puppy love.”
“No. I love you.” She nuzzled his cheek with her nose and lips and her tenderness pierced him.
The image became tiny and unnaturally white, was surrounded by darkness, then faded like the picture on a turned off TV.
Come back.

I can’t emphasize enough how contrived the above referenced elements felt. I couldn’t escape the feeling that Gaitskill’s intention in adding the S&M, prostitution, etc. elements, was for attention,*** because few women writers were addressing these kinds of themes at the time (this was published in 1988). Twenty-four years later, these themes fail to raise an eyebrow, (although they did elicit many an eyeroll), leaving the stories feeling flat and meaningless. So I didn’t finish. Not even the shreds of gratification received from hate-reading could save this. These stories left me feeling empty and mean.

* a rarity for me -- I rarely leave the house willingly. I find the outside world too depressing.
** the entire time I was reading this, this song was in my head on a loop: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFRSaw...
*** and Gaitskill loves attention. Any woman that shows up to read an excerpt from one of her books, braless, is dying for attention. Not that I haven’t done that in the past. But the difference is I was 19 years old when I would pull those cheap stunts. OK... maybe 23. My point is, although some women may be susceptible to stooping to such vulgar bids for attention, most have the sense to grow out of it.
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Reading Progress

July 5, 2012 – Started Reading
July 5, 2012 – Shelved
July 5, 2012 – Shelved as: don-t-judge
July 6, 2012 –
0.0% "This is now unequivocally a hate-read."
July 8, 2012 – Shelved as: neverfinished
July 8, 2012 – Shelved as: kindling
July 8, 2012 – Finished Reading
August 9, 2012 – Shelved as: do-not-resuscitate
October 17, 2012 – Shelved as: i-love-new-york
April 28, 2013 – Shelved as: nys-writer-s-institute

Comments Showing 1-34 of 34 (34 new)

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Michelle I hope you don't hate this one. I read it years ago and liked it a lot, but I'm not sure how the stories hold up over time.

Janice I'm trying to keep an open mind, but to be honest, I'm not liking it so far.

Mary Gaitskill is going to be reading at a local college in a couple of weeks, so I wanted to read this before potentially going to see her.

I hope we can discuss this when I'm finished!

Michelle That's funny - she read at my college circa 1995. I remember she was wearing a tight tank top, no bra, and my friend whispered 'Get over yourself, Mary.' I think at the time, at least in my experience, there weren't many women writing contemporary stories as edgy (Gah! For lack of a better word) as she was. Of course now promiscuity and kink are kind of the norm.

Janice Yeah, I'm getting the sense that she's the kind of woman that never got out of that kind of schtick.

Michelle You are correct. I read another collection of her stories and a novel, and they were pretty much the same. This was the best of the bunch, in my opinion.

If you do end up going to see her, you'll have to let me know what she wore.

Janice Ha! I will, Michelle!

message 7: by Michelle (last edited Jul 09, 2012 01:17PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Michelle I see this book never got any better for you. Heh.

(Are you going to see her read?)

I just finished Concrete. I know you'll like it more than this one. It wasn't as good as Woodcutters, in my opinion, but still great.

Janice No, I won't be going to the reading. I'm taking the NY bar exam (again - don't judge), and she's reading on the last day of the exam. I think listening to her read one of her vacuous stories might throw me over the edge.

Michelle No judgment here. Good luck on your exam! (Or am I supposed to say 'Break a leg'? Either way, I hope you pass.)

Janice Thanks, Michelle!

Send some good vibes my way the 24th and 25th!

I judge me. (I don't want you to think that I would assume that you are judgmental.)

Michelle I will!

I judge me too. (I can be judgmental, but I'm also an INFJ so I blame it on that.)

Janice Thanks! :)

What's an INFJ?

message 13: by Janice (last edited Jul 09, 2012 03:08PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Janice Oh, never mind. Myers-Briggs.

Janice BTW, I took one of those tests yesterday while I was procrastinating, and I'm an INTJ. I hate feelings.

message 15: by Michelle (last edited Jul 10, 2012 08:41AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Michelle I'm an INTJ

This is why you will pass the bar exam. I know you will (or I feel you will).

I hate feelings too, but those irrational things won't leave me alone.

message 16: by Michelle (last edited Jul 10, 2012 08:48AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Michelle Also:

Possible Career Path for the INTJ:

Professors and Teachers
Medical Doctors / Dentists
Corporate Strategists and Organization Builders Business Administrators / Managers
Military Leaders
Lawyers / Attorneys
Computer Programmers or Systems Analysts

Janice Thank you so much for the encouragement, Michelle!

I'm inexplicably calm this time around. Last time, I was totally psychotic about studying 24/7 and knowing everything, and I think that ultimately, that backfired. This time, I've really slacked off... but I feel more confident for some reason.

message 18: by David (last edited Jul 11, 2012 06:53AM) (new)

David I love* this review, Janice.

I'm a Rageaholic too.

(I haven't read the story, but I hated the movie Secretary.)

* I mean: LOVE.

Janice Thank you, David.

I'm glad I'm not the only Rageaholic!

I hope you watched the youtube videos. They're a necessary part of the review experience.

message 20: by Izzy (new) - added it

Izzy Let's go to the lecture anyway and throw bras at Mary Gaitskill.

Michelle ^^^ Heh.

I want someone to go so they can tell me whether or not she wore one.

message 22: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy I love your footnotes*!

* is this perhaps your "gimmick"?

Janice Ha!

Maybe! I find it's a good way to go off on a loosely related tangent, without disrupting the structure of the review.

message 24: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy Your other gimmicks are telling great stories and linking to YouTube. That sounds bad, but I meant that as a compliment.

Janice Well, thanks.

In any case, I know I'm a hack! I'm fine with it.

I wonder if anyone actually watches the Youtube videos. Did you?

message 26: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy Yes, I loved them. Especially the "You Gotta Have a Gimmick" video. I'd never seen it before. Cracked me up!

message 27: by Janice (last edited Jul 17, 2012 08:21AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Janice That's from one of my favorite movies, Gypsy, starring Natalie Wood, 1962.

message 28: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy It looks great. I'm gonna have to seek it out.

message 29: by mark (new)

mark monday this is a great review. and hilarious at times too. i'm not sure i've ever done a hate-read, at least not on purpose. although sometimes i'll re-read certain hateful emails i've received from colleagues to get a sick thrill. i save them all in their own special outlook folder! as well as my crisp replies.

i did like that movie Secretary. and i really loved Girls - although i don't see a whole lot of similarity between the two.

Janice Thanks, mark! This was actually very fun to write.

mark wrote: "although sometimes i'll re-read certain hateful emails i've received from colleagues to get a sick thrill.

Sounds like hate-reading to me!

Bobby Bermea I reeeeeaaally enjoyed Bad Behavior. But actually, I really enjoyed your review too. Very funny stuff. "A hate read". I'll try it. Maybe.

Janice Bobby wrote: "I reeeeeaaally enjoyed Bad Behavior. But actually, I really enjoyed your review too. Very funny stuff. "A hate read". I'll try it. Maybe."

Thanks, Bobby!

message 33: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Williams Ha. So hilarious about the gimmick. I have met her long ago at my school in a group setting. I didn't know a thing about her. She's grown with me in time. I ♡ her.

message 34: by Mary (new)

Mary I can’t deal w time sucks like this Thx for review

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