‘Comfort’ by Mary Gaitskill

Comfort by Mary Gaitskill, 1997

The magic trick:

Showing a very believable father-son relationship

Another MG Week.

This is a terrific, terrific story – one where Gaitskill expertly blends her penchant for sex, relationships, and dysfunction into something beautiful.

I was most impressed by the relationship between Daniel and his father. It’s a nuanced, highly realistic portrayal, to my eyes.

The key scene puts father and son at an Applebee’s-type restaurant. Gaitskill does a great job of showing both the father’s flaws and the way Daniel not only overlooks those flaws but embraces and embodies them.

The reader comes away with a tremendous feel for who Daniel is, which then informs how we understand his relationship with Jacquie at the heart of the story. And that’s quite a trick on Gaitskill’s part.

The selection:

No matter how thoroughly his father failed, Daniel saw him as a suave, sneering gambler who might win at any time. The ridiculous tropical fish business, the trips to South America, the drunken squabbles with surly young girlfriends in motel restaurants, the seedy hotel rooms, the dirty socks that surely accumulated under the beds of the wifeless – it all merely added to his allure. Even the vision of his father rising from a badly scrambled bed in a box-shaped motel room and staggering into the bathroom to vomit gave Daniel a pang of admiration and love. When he was a teenager, his father had said to him, “You’re the son I don’t worry about at all. You’re a cat that lands on its feet. You could be stuck in the middle of the desert and you’d find your way.” He loved his father for saying that to him.

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