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Summary and book reviews of Veronica by Mary Gaitskill

Veronica

by Mary Gaitskill

Veronica
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2005, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2006, 288 pages

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Book Summary

Masterfully layering time and space, thought and sensation, Mary Gaitskill dazzles the reader with psychological insight and a mystical sense of the soul's hurtling passage through the world.

The extraordinary new novel from the acclaimed author of Bad Behavior and Two Girls, Fat and Thin; Veronica is 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.

Masterfully layering time and space, thought and sensation, Mary Gaitskill dazzles the reader with psychological insight and a mystical sense of the soul's hurtling passage through the world. A novel unlike any other, Veronica is a tour de force about the fragility and mystery of human relationships, the failure of love, and love's abiding power. It shines on every page with depth of feeling and formal beauty.

When I was young, my mother read me a story about a wicked little girl. She read it to me and my two sisters. We sat curled against her on the couch and she read from the book on her lap. The lamp shone on us and there was a blanket over us. The girl in the story was beautiful and cruel. Because her mother was poor, she sent her daughter to work for rich people, who spoiled and petted her. The rich people told her she had to visit her mother. But the girl felt she was too good and went merely to show herself. One day, the rich people sent her home with a loaf of bread for her mother. But when the little girl came to a muddy bog, rather than ruin her shoes, she threw down the bread and stepped on it. It sank into the bog and she sank with it. She sank into a world of demons and deformed creatures. Because she was beautiful, the demon queen made her into a statue as a gift for her great-grandson. The girl was covered in snakes and slime and surrounded by the hate of every creature ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
ABOUT THIS GUIDE

The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Mary Gaitskill’s Veronica, which The New York Times Book Review hailed as “a masterly examination of the relationship between surface and self, culture and fashion, time and memory.”

ABOUT THIS BOOK

Set primarily during the narcotic glitz and casual cruelties of the 1980s, Veronica traces the rise and fall of Alison, from teenager runaway in San Francisco to the runways of Paris and finally to a menial job cleaning apartments in San Rafael. But the novel is far more concerned with Alison’s inner life than her outward trajectory. As she ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

The New York Times - Janet Maslin

Mary Gaitskill's fierce, night-blooming new novel is about a close friendship between two women. But it should not be confused with anything cozy. Imagine a buddy story from the mind of William S. Burroughs, illustrated with images by Robert Mapplethorpe or David Cronenberg, and you get some idea of the tenderness to be found here.....Beauty and ugliness do battle in Veronica, not only within the minds of its tormented characters but also on the page. Ms. Gaitskill writes so radiantly about violent self-loathing that the very incongruousness of her language has shocking power.

The New York Times Sunday Book Review - Meghan O'Rourke

....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.

Kirkus Reviews

A gorgeous, articulate novel that is at once an unflinching meditation on degradation and a paean to deliverance.

Publishers Weekly - Heidi Julavits

Starred Review. It is hard to convey the tragedy of a girl in the prime of her beauty who savors the ugly way she experiences herself; it is more wrenching, and more in keeping with the gimlet-eyed clarity of the book's earlier pages, to convey the tragedy of the truly ugly woman, who once, despite her demurrals and insecurities, knew beauty.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

Starred Review. Gaitskill perfectly evokes the ambience of the 1970s and 1980s ... And, harmonizing with Jennifer Egan, Julie Hecht, and Amy Bloom, she zeros in on the vagaries of the mind as she considers beauty and disease, betrayal and loyalty, and fear and compassion in a raw-nerves novel that is at once elegiac, funny, and life affirming.

Reader Reviews

disappointed to say the least! forced myself to read for book club

disappointing to say the least!
I read ALOT of books. I had to pace myself with this abysmal excuse for a book by reading 4 others in between. Sad, sorry, depressing and shallow are the words I use to describe my overarching takeaway messages. If she truly appreciated beauty...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Mary Gaitskill is the author of 3 books, and many short stories and essays (see below for details).  She was born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1954, attended the University of Michigan (where she became a born-again Christian at age 21, but lapsed six-months later), and has lived in Toronto, San Francisco and Marin County, California.  She married writer Peter Trachtenberg in 2001 and currently lives in New York.

She first tried to get her work published when she was 23, but ...

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