Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill
There's a line in High Fidelity, "It's not who you are, it's what you like." It's strange to think that in a book, or in life, you encounter someone wearing a trench coat or reading Bust magazine, or listening to Phil Collins, and expect that to tell you something about them.
Mary Gaitskill doesn't realy operate this way. As a result, you wind up with snowflake sweater-wearing junkies and shy, homely masochists, which takes a minute or two to wrap your head around. She doesn't do this in a Desperate Housewives kind of way that seeks to uncover the seedy underbelly of normal domesticity. Instead, she's interested in the complexity of human desire, and the way that it becomes obsessive, violent, and/or isolating. Not the way it can become these things... the way it does.
The James Spader/Maggie Gyllenhaal film, Secretary, is loosely adapted from a story of the same title in this collection. Reportedly, Gaitskill was not at all pleased by the adaptation - she thought it was too cute and sweet. Compared to the story itself, boy howdy, it is; however, I think she's a little too hard on the film. I liked the sweetness, and thought the film needed it. But you will find no such sweetness in Gaitskill's stories.
I wouldn't want to read her everyday, but sometimes it's interesting to wallow around in the dark places of the human psyche, and hardly anyone is better at writing about it. Her stories have a kind of voyeuristic appeal that allows readers to be interested in her world and her characters without necessarily being able to relate to them or even understand them.
She's not for everyone - I think a good litmus test for determining whether you can finish a Mary Gaitskill book is Six Feet Under. If you find this show horrifying and depraved on a fairly regular basis, best to avoid her.
If you like...: the matter-of-factness of Joan Didion or the urban nightmares of Bret Easton Ellis (but without the sensationalism), this book is for you.