He was beginning to see her as a locked garden that he could sneak into and sit in for days, tearing the heads off the flowers.
“With her first published gathering of stories, Bad Behavior, we meet a vital and gifted new writer, one whose work has an unusual importance at this time. Most unusual for any short-story collection, this book has been sold to more than a dozen foreign publishers. Yet none of these stories has been published in any American magazine. Looking at the stories, as remarkable for their substance as for their obvious skill, originality and control, one is forced to face the question of why our magazine fiction editors let them slip past. And from this question we can begin to define some of the special qualities of Bad Behavior.
None of the nine excellent stories is, by any means, trendy; all of them would be a challenge to any editor I know. For one thing, you actually have to read these stories and to let them happen to you before you rush to judgment. Technically, they are lean and quick and spare, tightly controlled. Ms. Gaitskill gives them the added psychological dimensions of flashing memories and dreams and fantasies to compete with their well-evoked perceptions. That she manages to accomplish these things within the confines of contemporary stories that move along as quickly and gracefully as anybody’s is a small miracle. Style always works for substance, and she can and does give you plain writing or fancy, as needed. Her technique doesn’t announce or call attention to itself.
All but two of the stories take place in contemporary New York City, and it is a profoundly grungy and unglamorous Babylon. All of the stories have something to do with what used to be called sexual perversion, mostly sadomasochistic fun and games. These things, along with the usual ingestion of chemical substances and the run-of-the-mill, end-of-century despair, are matter-of-fact, mundane, unmemorable, neither shocking nor titillating. Remember the late stories of John O’Hara? How well he used the shock of sexual perversity as the central revelation? Here we go a step further. It is never revelation, just another quality in the cumulative discovery of character.
Wise beyond her years, utterly unsentimental, Mary Gaitskill is at once ruthlessly objective and sympathetic. She has no easy ideological camouflage to hide behind. She writes, equally well, about all the classes in America. Her blue-collar people are real and true, not the odd exotics we are too often given. Her moneyed people aren’t all that different. They just have more money.
This is such a built collection, structured so that each story leads into the next, creating a new world. It is a collection I urge you to read and to read right – from beginning to end. When you get to the glorious last story, ‘Heaven,’ denser with life than many novels, you will have to be cold-blooded indeed not to find yourself crying, as much for the joy of art as for the pity and sorrow at the secret heart of all living things.”