Mary Gaitskill told me I had a radiant smile

Mary Gaitskill is tiny. She wore a perfectly tailored, brown pinstriped suit (the one here. The podium came up to her chest, and she read from Veronica under the heavy, dark eyebrow of Frida Kahlo.

At first I thought she came off as cold. But the more I watched her, the more I listened, Gaitskill wasn’t cold at all. It was though it took all her energy to control her emotions. Her eyes were fierce, watching the audience as we gazed at her. From the suit, to the perfect long white-blonde hair, she was perfectly put together, perfectly contained. And yet she seemed as though she could become totally unhinged at any moment. Her appearance was about as far from her prose as a writer could be. Her sentences and paragraphs are so full that sometimes, after you read them you have to stop and digest.

She was glorious.

During her reading it was everything I could do not to sigh right out loud. I sat biting my lower lip, eyes half-closed, mesmerized. I had goosebumps the entire time.

She talked about her characters’ names — Veronica and Allison, and that even though she’s an Elvis Costello fan it didn’t really occur to her the names matching the songs. She talked about how the character of Veronica was the soul of the book and why she named the book after her instead of Allison, the main character.

The best part was when she talked about the actual writing of the book. How she forced herself to write it really fast, even though she usually has a painstakingly slow writing process. She wrote big chunks of the novel back in like 1992 and she said parts of it were horrible, “like they were written by a talented 21-year-old.”

It was glorious. And then I took my place in line to get my book signed. I had lugged along my hardcover of Veronica though I was too shy to bring Bad Behavior and Because They Wanted To (which I just finished and destroyed me with its wonderfulness).

Then suddenly it was my turn and I stood in front of her, speechless. She looked up at me and smiled. I beamed back.

“To Jodi,” she wrote. “With the radiant smile. Mary Gaitskill.” She handed the book back to me.
And smiling, I whispered, “Thank You.” Because I didn’t know what to say. I am often left without words when facing my idols. I had no courage, nothing that I could possibly say to her to tell her how much her writing has meant to me. How it moves me in ways that I cannot even describe. I should have told her how while I read her books I often have to put them aside, close my eyes, and just breathe. Because there’s nothing else I could possibly do.

I beamed all the way home.

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  1. FFJ 27.Sep.06 at 7:50 am

    two words – fucking sweet! you should write a story about all the writers that you’ve meet and had such a positive effect on. doug copeland, and david sedaris come to mind….

  2. Girl Detective 27.Sep.06 at 3:03 pm

    I was less bashful than you–I brought all my books, and her Harper’s article as well, since it was hugely important to me at the time. She signed all my stuff, but I didn’t get a cool compliment like you. I couldn’t figure out which person you were or I would have said hi. I kept wondering how she kept her suit so wrinkle free on a book tour, and liking the toughness of her boots underneath the suit pants.

  3. jodi 27.Sep.06 at 3:08 pm

    You were two people in front of me. She said something about you looking familiar, didn’t she? I saw that Harpers and was so impressed by how much you thought ahea — though I didn’t know it was you at the time. I was the freakishly tall woman in the blue shirt.

  4. Mike 12.Apr.08 at 1:16 pm

    She’s a real inspiration. I just bought Two Girls, Fat and Thin and want to read it this summer. Bad Behavior and Veronica really tore me open. I need to get Because They Wanted To as well.

    She was at the Free Library in Philadelphia a year or so ago; hopefully she’ll come back.

  5. Jodi 12.Apr.08 at 6:54 pm

    I have “Two Girls” on my shelf, but have not read it yet. I’m kind of afraid to, because I’ve heard it’s not so good.

  6. Mike 19.Apr.08 at 8:37 pm

    I going to read it this summer. I want to also get the ‘Because they wanted to’ short story collection. I think you should read it because that way then you can engage in the discussion knowing what is being talked about. I’ve only taken a gander at it, but if it’s Gaitskill, it should be a worth-reading book. I just re-read ‘Secretary’ last night. I wish they would release a collection of her essays or something, that would be great.

  7. Jodi 20.Apr.08 at 10:35 am

    I’ve actually read both collections, Because They Wanted To and Bad Behavior. Gaitskill’s one of my favorite authors.


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