In 2017, “Cat Person”, the first short tale I’d ever published, went viral. In the story, a university scholar named Margot goes on an extended, disastrous date with a man in his mid-30s named Robert. At the end of the night, Margot sleeps with Robert, notwithstanding realizing, belatedly, that she has no preference to do so. Her reasons for making that desire continue to be opaque even to her, and she ghosts him tomorrow. To my wonder – and, I think, to my editor’s – the tale became a catalyst for dozens of overlapping conversations about sex, consent, on-line courting, and #MeToo.
Amid the waves of frequently contradictory praise, judgment, and analysis of “Cat Person”, an occasional comparison surfaced, that I clung to love a lifeline: the work of Mary Gaitskill. When humans brought up her name together with mine, I felt both relieved and thankful. Partly this turned into because I without a doubt cherished her writing, but it additionally had to do with a tale I had in my head about her profession: she changed into a lady writer who had first come to prominence because of testimonies that featured express intercourse. She had weathered the onslaught of prurient attention – not simply to her writing, but to her lifestyles and her appears – that had come at the side of that. But she had emerged on the opposite aspect of that maelstrom as a writer who had carried out close to-widespread critical acclaim. I understood those early comparisons because the praise they were almost sincerely meant to be: an offer that I become now not only a lady writing narcissistically about her own sex existence and veiling it beneath a thin gauze of fiction; I changed into a lady writing narcissistically approximately her own sex life, veiling it below a thin gauze of fiction, and then, via some magic, turning it into art.
For all my admiration of the author, though, I soon started to suspect that the Gaitskill evaluation becomes more loaded than it first appeared. “I love Mary Gaitskill,” I said to a pal no longer long after my story got here out. “But even Mary Gaitskill isn’t Mary Gaitskill any more.” By which I intended: Gaitskill’s debut collection, Bad Behavior, at the beginning, posted in 1988, is now greater than 30 years vintage. In the intervening decades, she has published three novels, greater brief-tale collections, and an e-book of essays – but nobody who used her call along with mine made any connection with these paintings. That became even extra major when my first book turned into published, and people persisted to compare it to Gaitskill (in approaches each complimentary to me and now not) notwithstanding the fact that it becomes unabashedly a collection of genre-inflected horror stories, about as exceptional in content material from Bad Behavior because it becomes possible to be … well, except for all the sex. Now, I would without a doubt like to assume Gaitskill and I even have some stylistic and thematic factors in commonplace, but no person become citing Gaitskill in my opinions to notice how, say, I become interrogating the manner that white ladies negotiate their historically courting to sentimentality, as she did in her maximum recent novel, The Mare. They delivered up Gaitskill due to the fact my book had bizarre terrible sex in it, and he or she had written the definitive e-book about Bad Sex – you already know, the only with the story they made the film Secretary about.
Penguin rereleased Bad Behavior in the UK this year, no doubt playing that a new generation of younger ladies, who have grown up in an internet age glutted with stories approximately bad intercourse, will find it each reassuringly acquainted and disconcertingly sparkling. I suppose they’re right approximately that, even though perhaps for the incorrect motives: reading it again, I became another time stunned by means of how excellent it’s far. It’s one of these books that, irrespective of how often you come back to it, is constantly one way or the other a one-of-a-kind e-book from the only you don’t forget. LitHub’s Emily Temple has written an awesome essay approximately why aspiring female writers, especially, are regularly attracted to Bad Behavior. Reading it at 22, she recalls:
The overwhelming feeling … became one among permission, both as a human and as a writer. After a (quick) lifetime of being instructed that it was men and simplest men who were allowed the complex memories, the unlikeable narrators, the awful conduct and cruelties, analyzing this e-book felt like peeling off unwanted pores and skin. I too can be taken severely, I idea. I too can be cold and sharp. I too ought to think such thoughts and chronicle them.
I agree wholeheartedly with all of this, specifically the word about cruelty. The first time I read Bad Behavior, it turned into the cruelty that forced me. Gaitskill’s narrative voice hilariously implies. Her crucifying eye is most often observing the guys her younger girl protagonists are sound asleep with, and the disjunction between the way the women are behaving (in a well-mannered way, accommodatingly) and what they’re questioning serves as a wellspring of endless black humor. For example, within the tale “A Romantic Weekend”, a young girl displays on a liaison that has long gone poorly, to mention the least: