The effervescent, well-dressed Quin, a successful book editor and fixture on the New York arts scene, has been accused of repeated unforgivable transgressions toward women in his orbit. But are they unforgivable? And who has the right to forgive him? To Quin’s friend Margot, the wrongdoing is less clear.
There’s room to feel sympathy with the flamboyant, roguish Q, and some readers will; it’s an astonishingly humane characterization, articulated within mutable social dynamics. But more urgently, we are primed to penetrate Q’s defenses and misogyny, primed for penitence. Here, Gaitskill nails one of the most disempowering and frustrating aspects of the recent sexual offences shakedown: the frequently unrewarded desire for enlightenment and apology, and genuine reformation of perpetrators ... There are no easy answers or safe moral stations within the book. The two narratives converse, diverge, agree and disagree, brilliantly covering this hotly debated terrain. In fewer than 100 pages, Gaitskill achieves a superb feat. She distils the suffering, anger, reactivity, danger and social recalibration of the #MeToo movement into an extremely potent, intelligent and nuanced account ... This is Pleasure sensitively and confidently holds its fury, momentum, contrary forces and imperfect humanity within a perfect frame.
The story is typical of Gaitskill in that it explores a familiar, even clichéd situation, only to subvert our expectations. The story is not one of justice served, nor is it one of justice miscarried. Instead, it is a story about how loneliness can deform a person, even one who seems to have so much going for him. The story doesn’t excuse Quin’s behavior, but in recognizing his flaws, it doesn’t outright condemn it, either. Instead, it asks us to see Quin for who he is—eager, erring, lonely, a creep and a bad guy who probably deserves to lose his job but not his humanity—and it also asks us to try to recognize what we might share with him, what might cause us to behave badly. If this story of sexual misconduct refuses easy resolutions, it also offers something more sustaining: a recognition of the loneliness plaguing each of us and a suggestion for how the damaged among us might possibly be redeemed ... This Is Pleasure is confounding in part because it seems more interested in examining Quin’s inner life than it does in judging his behavior. The story does not deny his culpability and acknowledges that the loss of his job fits his crimes. But through the character of Margot, Quin is seen as not so much evil or tragic but pitiful ... Gaitskill, while deeply moral, is not a moralist. Whereas others might only judge, she attends, as artists are meant to do. By offering us a portrait of ourselves, lonely and uncertain and vulnerable, she finds that miracles occur: rapprochement and forgiveness, sudden kinds of intimacy and, if not love, then recognition.
... its slimness belies its incendiary content ... Gaitskill uncannily captures Quin’s intoxicating mixture of brashness and tenderness, performative wit and flair and haunting vulnerability ... That the story is narrated by a 'perpetrator' (Quin) and an 'apologist' (Margot) makes This Is Pleasure a very risky endeavorto reduce an enigmatic and ambiguous story to a castigatory epithet is to miss the point of Gaitskill’s fiction ... one of our greatest living writers brings to the most inflammatory of topics nuance, subtlety, and a capacious humanity that grants mercy even as it never excuses.