Greg's Reviews > Bad Behavior

Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill
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bookshelves: fiction, girls-girls-girls, short-stories

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 of a few things, and they seemed sort of worth saying but when I got home I decided to look at a review I wrote about three and half years ago for the other Mary Gaitskill collection I'd read, and I found that some of the very witty things I thought of saying I'd actually already said in less witty formats. You can read that review here.

In case you don't want to go read that review, I'll repeat myself a little bit. Reading these stories I got the idea that Mary Gaitskill would be the sort of person you'd be having coffee with and she would start to loudly talk about some kink in her sex life. Loud enough that anyone sitting within a couple of tables of her would have no choice but to notice that she just made an 'offhand' comment about how sometimes she likes to get smacked while getting fucked in the ass. I feel like she would then act all offended at the prudishness of the person sitting with her and the people sitting around her that were now giving her weird looks. It's not just that there is quite a bit of sex and kinks mentioned in her stories, but that it seems like it's mentioned too often as if to be provocative.

What is kind of funny though is that the one story where I don't remember there being any overt mention of sex, or a woman liking to get smacked around is the only story that I thought failed (which I now I just read through the blurbs and one of them said that this story was the best of the collection, oh well). This story, the last in the collection, is the only one where she moves out of her comfort zone of beautiful young-urban people struggling to make it in the creative world (no, this is a lie, "Secretary" doesn't deal with these people either, but I guess I just think of it that way since the movie was such a cult-thing) and deals with older people and family. This story feels too sentimental though (although another blurb tells me there is no sentimentality in the book) and populated with stock characters.

Gaitskill is a fine writer. The stories aren't unbearable to read, I just don't care that much for the subject matter or the characters. The stories here are more refreshing than say stories about sad twenty eight year old men who are slacking their way to be recognized as the geniuses they've been promised their whole lives that they really are, but being more appealing than that genre isn't necessarily that difficult.

I think one problem with her stories are the male characters are always so fucking lame. They don't feel real and they are either borderline socio-paths with what appears to be some sort of affective disorder or else they are just ridiculous. The main woman characters are much more believable, although they generally seem to be the same character with a few changes. I get the feeling that they are all Mary Gaitskill, which is of course the thing you're not supposed to think while reading stories (especially if you aren't reading a Mary Gaitskill story, then you might wonder why she would be in the story you are reading, especially if you were reading a story by a writer who died before she was even born, safe to say it's best not to think that any story you read is about Mary Gaitskill to avoid any confusion). If they are, she is very good at creating that character, but in this collection the other characters feel either flat or like wooden set-pieces.

As I said though, she's a fine writer. She just doesn't do much for me. If you like reading stories about strong women who also like to get smacked around from time to time this might appeal to you.
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Reading Progress

September 2, 2012 – Started Reading
September 2, 2012 – Shelved
September 2, 2012 – Shelved as: fiction
September 2, 2012 – Shelved as: girls-girls-girls
September 2, 2012 – Shelved as: short-stories
September 3, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Michelle (last edited Sep 10, 2012 02:23PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Michelle The stories here are more refreshing than say stories about sad twenty eight year old men who are slacking their way to be recognized as the geniuses they've been promised their whole lives that they really are, but being more appealing than that genre isn't necessarily that difficult.

I'll bet I know what book you are talking about here.
: )

Anyway, I liked this book a lot when I originally read it, but I've since read two reviews of it that made me second-guess myself. Then again, I was in my early-to-mid twenties at the time and I thought this sort of thing was edgy/cool. For a while now it's been pretty commonplace to write about the sort of characters that appear in her books.


Greg I think I might have liked this book more if I read it around the time I first moved to New York.

But yes, you probably are thinking of one of a couple of books that I had in mind when I wrote that. I was also thinking of All the Sad Literary Men or whatever it's called by Keith Gessen.


Janice Greg wrote: It's not just that there is quite a bit of sex and kinks mentioned in her stories, but that it seems like it's mentioned too often as if to be provocative.

This is one of the problems I had with her stories. I gave this one star. Here's my review, in case you're interested.


Michelle Janice, yours was the other review I mentioned that had me second-guessing my four-star rating of this book. I should have linked it.


Janice Thanks for keeping this on your update feed, Michelle. I wouldn't have seen this otherwise.


Ryan Williams Americans are a strange sort.


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