‘Connection’ by Mary Gaitskill

Connection by Mary Gaitskill, 1988

The magic trick:

Recreating an important and complex friendship from the narrator’s past

We talked yesterday on the website about Mary Gaitskill’s “An Affair, Edited.” Today’s story, “Connections,” follows it in the Bad Behavior collection and shares a similar approach.

In “Connection,” Gaitskill does a remarkable job of recreating a friendship. It’s all very realistic. The friendship is borne of antipathy before growing into something not unlike love. There is manipulation and selfishness, of course, along the way. Jilted lovers and identity crises. It really sums up the often-bumpy transition from college to semi-settled adulthood very well.

The key – and I hope I don’t ruin the plot by saying this – is that even through all the negativity that threads its way through the friendship’s history, the narrator finds a generous, genuine emotional tug at the end. It’s hard not to finish the story and be touched. And that’s quite a trick on Gaitskill’s part.

The selection:

“All we ever do is talk about you. You don’t seem interested in my relationship with Jonathan or my wedding or my therapy. Those are the things I’m doing in my life. I’m trying very hard to get well and to have a good relationship and get married.” Her voice became a tremulous squeak, tears appeared, her face crumpled delicately and she pecked at it with her napkin.

Susan scowled at her cold cup of chamomile tea. She couldn’t bring herself to say that she despised Jonathan, that she thought their relationship was a farce, that she hated traditional weddings and that she thought Leisha used therapy the same way she had used Eddie – to distract herself from her own life. A wave of classical music surged through the room, loudly enough to knock over a table, aggressively soothing the eaters of cannoli and cute cakes.

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