BookBrowse Reviews Veronica by Mary Gaitskill

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Veronica

by Mary Gaitskill

Veronica by Mary Gaitskill X
Veronica by Mary Gaitskill
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2005, 240 pages

    Paperback:
    Jul 2006, 288 pages

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A tour de force about the fragility and mystery of human relationships, the failure of love, and love's abiding power. Novel

From the book jacket: A novel about flesh and spirit, vanity, mortality, and mortal affection. Set mostly in Paris and Manhattan in the desperately glittering 1980s, it has the timeless depth and moral power of a fairy tale.

As a teenager on the streets of San Francisco, Alison is discovered by a photographer and swept into the world of fashion - modeling in Paris and Rome. When her career crashes and a love affair ends disastrously, she moves to New York City to build a new life. There she meets Veronica—an older, wisecracking eccentric with her own ideas about style, a proofreader who comes to work with a personal "office kit" and a plaque that reads "Still Anal After All These Years." Improbably, the two women become friends. Their friendship will survive not only Alison's reentry into the seductive nocturnal realm of fashion, but also Veronica's terrible descent into the then-uncharted realm of AIDS. The memory of their friendship will continue to haunt Alison years later, when she, too, is aging and ill and is questioning the meaning of what she experienced and who she became during that time.

Comment: In many another author's hands a story that centers on an aging former model would be a warm and fuzzy tale contrasting the superficial beauty of her unhappy, younger self with the older, no longer beautiful woman, who finds true happiness by at last recognizing her inner beauty, and so on and so forth.  However, although Veronica is about beauty, and the doors that can open and close because of it, anyone familiar with one of Gaitskill's earlier books will not expect sentimental happy endings (or beginnings or middles for that matter) here.

Alison, the narrator of Veronica was once knowingly beautiful, but now she is a wreak, living in an apartment in San Rafael, California, with hepatitis and an injured arm, earning pin-money cleaning a friend's office.  From this point she looks back on her life from her pot-infused teen-years in San Francisco during the 1970s, her time as a teenage runaway, and her life as a fashion model and party girl in decadent and excessive late 1970s Paris, followed by a second career in New York during the 1980s, picked up from the pieces after her Parisian agency dumped her.  Worried that her modeling days are waning she takes a temp job on the night-shift, where she meets Veronica, who is in so many ways her polar opposite - a cynical, "unbeautiful", older woman engaged in a one-sided love affair with Duncan, a rampantly unfaithful bisexual who dies of AIDS having first infected Veronica.

Choose this book if you appreciate caustically raw but life-affirming novels. 

Selected Reviews:
"....Gaitskill is reaching further into her preoccupations than ever before, and the novel is full of very real pleasures. Her prose has a perfumed clarity. She tacks against the upright dichotomies of our historical moment - dichotomies that shape how we think and who we are but are often more contingent than we know. In Veronica, as ever, Gaitskill's brand of brainy lyricism, of acid shot through with grace, is unlike anyone else's. And it constitutes some of the most incisive fiction writing around." - The New York Times Sunday Book Review.

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in November 2005, and has been updated for the August 2006 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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