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Don't Cry: Stories by Mary Gaitskill

Don't Cry: Stories by Mary GaitskillMary Gaitskill has a reputation as the chronicler of bad relationships, but that label doesn't do justice to the stories she tells. Her relationships turn bad, or turn good, or just turn (and turn and turn). In every exploitation there's an attraction, or at least an accommodation; in every hostility there's a yearning for, or at least a memory of, connection. You see the intensity of people--friends and family as well as lovers--drawn together, and the often equally intense emptiness when the magnet flips and repels. Gaitskill is one of our best short story writers (that's a label that's fully just) and the prickly, sad brilliance of her last book, Veronica, confirmed her as a master of the novel, too. Don't Cry is just her third story collection in 20 years, after the modern classics Bad Behavior and Because They Wanted To, and it reminds you immediately of why you've been longing to read her again. Once more, there are former lovers and ex-friends and parents and children who have not quite made a hash of things, but there's also a broadening in this collection, especially in the title story, which looks at the ties of family and friendship when they are stretched across the global distance of privilege and poverty. --Tom Nissley

Book Review
In “College Town l980,” young people adrift in Ann Arbor debate the meaning of personal strength at the start of the Reagan era; in the urban fairy tale “Mirrorball,” a young man steals a girl’s soul during a one-night stand; in “The Little Boy,” a woman haunted by the death of her former husband is finally able to grieve through a mysterious encounter with a needy child; and in “The Arms and Legs of the Lake,” the fallout of the Iraq war becomes disturbingly real for the disparate passengers on a train going up the Hudson--three veterans, a liberal editor, a soldier’s uncle, and honeymooners on their way to Niagara Falls.
Each story delivers the powerful, original language, and the dramatic engagement of the intelligent mind with the craving body--or of the intelligent body with the craving mind--that is characteristic of Gaitskill’s fiction. As intense as Bad Behavior, her first collection of stories, Don’t Cry reflects the profound enrichment of life experience. As the stories unfold against the backdrop of American life over the last thirty years, they describe how our social conscience has evolved while basic human truths--“the crude cinder blocks of male and female down in the basement, holding up the house,” as one character puts it--remain unchanged.

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