In this hybrid work, the author of Veronica and Bad Behavior offers a collage of four novels (one a work in progress) interspersed with and thematically linked by a single short story, then woven together with the author's commentary. A kind of director's cut, this volume explores the personal and societal forces that inform each individual piece of work, creating a layered vision of modern life.
... draws attention to the line – increasingly blurred – between fiction and nonfiction. Even an ardent Gaitskill fan must admit, however, that the whole, here, is less than the sum of its parts. The spliced texts are distracting, and Gaitskill’s commentary sheds little additional light on her oeuvre ... Just as taking scissors to magazines does not automatically make one Richard Hamilton, so too the art of the literary fragment, as exemplified by authors such as Renata Adler and Jenny Offill, is not a simple matter of choosing chunks of thematically linked work ... It doesn’t help that much of the material has been mined before ... falls a little flat.
Does it work? Yes and no. Gaitskill’s legendary style is narcotic, her fictions hallucinatory, as the real often is. Her clarion sentences of constellated imagery drop you into that 'deep, soft core that everyone longs for, too deep for games or even words' ... If guilt pervades The Devil’s Treasure—white guilt, but also the guilt of a novelist using real lives as artistic material—it also propels its fragmented form. The book’s fictive-critical hybridity is a call-and-response with the self: passages from novels are answered by elucidations of the origins of their writing. That these explanations are often unsatisfying is where the trouble (but also the book) begins ... More unsettling than such au courant questions of novelistic appropriation (cultural or otherwise) is Gaitskill’s unnuanced balancing of disparate forms of violence in her larger accounting. In the hegemonic order she assails (but does not quite analyze), both systemic anti-Black racism and sexual violence are her focus, yet her squaring of them remains odd ... Gaitskill herself skirts any survey of colonial hegemony and racial capitalism but brings up Ta-Nehisi Coates’s recent memoir, comparing his childhood terrors to hers. As elsewhere, this balancing of experience feels inexpert, erroneous. Her fiction excels at showing how vulnerable people navigate those systems of supremacy that would (and do) harm them with startling nuance—perhaps resistance can only look like perversity within a crushingly perverse hegemony—but her commentary reveals an obdurate refusal to think systematically, an aversion that reads like an all-too-familiar blindness ... As I moved through the book—often exhilarated by the novel excerpts, discomfited by the annotations that followed—I wished Gaitskill had developed her feelings in fiction or a likewise singular narrative ... the fragmented form feels like no form at all.
... the total impact of the book is hard to describe. Devotees of Gaitskill’s work are likely to appreciate the opportunity to revisit her masterworks on something of a guided tour where the author herself is able to instruct us ... Those new to her work would be better served to start at the beginning and work their way up to this more impressionistic construction. The book rewards those looking for a deeper connection to Gaitskill's rigorous imagination.