‘The Girl On The Plane’ by Mary Gaitskill

The Girl On The Plane by Mary Gaitskill, 1997

The magic trick:

Using an interaction on a plane to recall one character’s regrettable past

Not entirely sure the technique here works, but it certainly is a good idea.

We have a disgruntled man talking with the woman seated next to him on a plane. Snippets of the conversation keep reminding him of his college years in Minnesota, specifically a friend of his named Patty. So the story alternates between the plane and his memories. It’s a cool back-and-forth way to organize a narrative, and one that encourages the reader to connect the past to the present.

Unfortunately, those connections never really work. We never get enough of a sense of who the woman on the plane is, so it’s difficult to link her to the Patty character the man keeps talking about. Just my opinion, but I found the story hollow and just plain nasty.

Nevertheless, the back-and-forth narrative is neat – in theory anyway. And that’s quite a trick on Gaitskill’s part.

The selection:

Most of the people he knew at Meadow were kids he’d gone to high school and even junior high with. They still lived at home and still drove their cars around together at night, drank in the small bars of Coate, adventured in Minneapolis, and made love to each other. This late-adolescent camaraderie gave their time at Meadow a fraught emotional quality that was like the shimmering fullness of a bead of water before it falls. They were all about to scatter and become different from one another, and this made them exult in their closeness and alikeness.

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