Today I finished reading Veronica by Mary Gaitskill. I hadn't heard of her until she spoke to the assembled writers at the Humber School in July. Her presentation was both eerie and inspiring. Eerie because Gaitskill, a beautiful woman, seemed unable or unwilling to smile. Perhaps she was just reacting against the convention that we must be ingratiating before people will listen to us. Her words were inspiring in that she told a personal story of believing in herself in spite of the rejection and denigration from pricks in positions. I wonder what her workshop was like? I bought Veronica because I overheard other writers saying it was good. (And it was an American National Book Award finalist.)
Reading Gaitskill reminds me somewhat of Margaret Atwood, the way people say she “writes with a scalpel.” And Veronica is similar to Mordecai Richler's Barney's Version, the way it is a challenge to tell a compelling story about an unattractive or "difficult" character. It also evokes Nuala O'Faolain for me, the way she is so honest about twentieth century women who choose to have sex with more than one person. After all, who were the role models for sexually liberated females except for Marilyn Monroe and Janice Joplin, and we know what happened to them.
Veronica the novel is the story of an era, the 1980s, its consumer and media-driven culture, and it is the story of a character, Alison, the narrator. Veronica the character is a woman, a friend of Alison's, who contracts AIDS from her gay lover. Veronica functions as a vehicle, a device which enables Alison to tell her story of their friendship and of her own life, before and after Veronica. Alison is a meangirl teen-age runaway who becomes a model in Paris and New York. She is negative and judgmental, dancing as fast as she can to prove that “we are having fun.” She is shallow and ethically challenged but she is also hyper-observant and intuitive and over the twenty-plus years the novel covers, grows emotionally and spiritually. Veronica is a novel about freedom, grief, and love; it is about the meanings of touch, connection, and intimacy. Veronica helped me reconcile with some of the decisions I made as a young woman alone in the post-pill pre-AIDS world. It is a novel about choices, from choosing which person to trust to choosing which trail to walk.