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.