Book Review

Review: Because They Wanted To by Mary Gaitskill

This set of short stories started out feeling poignant, sharp, observant and melancholy but, by the time you’ve read 5 or 6 of them, they began to feel like the same voice and same observations over and over again …

Title: Because They Wanted To
Author: Mark Gaitskill
Pages: 256
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Publication Date: 5th November 2020 (first published 1997)
Ownership: eARC provided by the publisher

Rating: 3.5 stars rounded down to 3

About the Book

Mary Gaitskill’s coolly compelling, quietly devastating stories explore the messy complexity of relationships between lovers, families and friends. An unsettling encounter on a plane; a tentative affair between an older woman and a younger man; the chasm between a father and his daughter: each expresses our longing for, and our fear of, human connection.

My Review

These aren’t those kind of short stories that fill you with despair and end on a hopeful note. They are insightful, painful and that’s where they leave you and perhaps for the first few, you read them and find them really intriguing and inspiring. But then the next one comes and it’s the same and there’s no fixed end point, you just reach the end of the story.

And that was one of the hardest things about reading these stories, was that they kind of trailed off at the end. Nothing was resolved, we were just done listening in on that character.

But they are good. They really reminded me of the kind of sharp observational dark humour that comes with Anais Nin’s short erotic stories, and Mary Gaitskill’s short stories have a very similar vibe, and content, except that they’re a little less ‘smutty’ and a lot more real-life.

They do indeed explore sexual ‘otherness’ and people are in some way disconnected with the world in that frighteningly empty Albert Camus way. To have the characters’ level of self-narration and self-reflection they need to be disconnected from themselves. But when you’ve read a few stories like that, of people on the outside looking in, but not actually making any life-changing decisions, they become hard to read.

I wouldn’t normally say this, as I often can’t get enough of short stories, especially when they’re good, but I could have done with about 75% of the ones in this book. And that is purely because the more I read, the less comfortable I became reading them.

Which is why I’m giving them 3.5 for excellent content, but 3 stars for overwhelming me.

I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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