An Affair, Edited by Mary Gaitskill, 1988
The magic trick:
Diving deep into the psychology behind a past relationship
We have three stories to close out this Mary Gaitskill Week that are no doubt linked. Not explicitly. It’s not like the plot of “An Affair, Edited” flows directly into tomorrow’s SSMT feature, “Connection,” and so on. But the three stories are back-to-back-to-back in the Bad Behavior collection, forming their own kind of novella.
The plots are not linked, but the protagonist at the center of each story may as well be the same. The women in the first two are graduates of the University of Michigan (as is Gaitskill, not incidentally) who are reflecting on their time at Ann Arbor from a present tense in Manhattan. I like joining the two. I’m not sure that was Gaitskill’s intent or not. I’m not sure if the ex in one story is the same referenced in the other. But I think of them that way. It’s a neat thing.
Anyhow, this story – the weakest of the three, in my opinion – does a nice job of putting a messy relationship into order. It really is first-rate self-reflection. And if you think that’s easy, step back for a moment and try to describe a past relationship of your own. Not just an overview. All the gory details. All the motivations and leverage games. All the psychology. Every angle from your side and that of the significant other. Not so simple, right?
This story can be an exhausting exercise. But you can’t help but be impressed that this is a woman who understands her own life. And that’s quite a trick on Gaitskill’s part.
“Look, I grew up in a normal, happy family,” he’d said. “I’m well adjusted. I can’t identify with this self-esteem crisis, or whatever it is you’ve got. Anyway, we’ve only known each other for a few months and I’m not obligated to listen to your problems. You should call a psychiatrist, and anyway I have to take a bath right now.”
He couldn’t stand weak women.
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