Mirrorball by Mary Gaitskill, 2009
The magic trick:
Creating an aura of agonized romance out of an otherwise mundane hookup
The whole point of this website is to spotlight the magic in every short story.
It’s not a difficult task in this story.
The whole thing is magic.
So, actually, maybe it’s an impossible task. I certainly can’t tell you how she does it.
I can at least string a few sentences together about the effect.
The story analyzes a few simple actions and decisions made by two young people. It will likely be very familiar to many readers. The two young people meet at a bar. They go home. Unsure of what they truly want, they split apart, feeling, at best, unfulfilled; at worst, totally shattered.
It shouldn’t be that interesting.
But the way Gaitskill writes about it, the way she magnifies and analyzes every single aspect of the hookup and the hookup’s aftermath, this mundane romantic entanglement takes on an intensity far greater than the sum of its parts.
The analysis reaches a fever pitch two-thirds of the way through the text. The two spent far more of this story apart, at this point, than they have together. So we’re getting lost in the web of analysis and overthinking, just as the characters themselves are. You begin to think of this (would-be) couple as some kind of elevated, important pair.
Then they talk again.
She calls him late one night. The words they say, the feelings they express- you’re reminded, immediately, ‘Oh, this is just so stupid.’
The distance between the way the connection builds up in their minds and the reality of the situation is immense.
And isn’t that just how it always is? Especially when you’re young?
i don’t know of another story that creates that kind of melodramatic terror world of young people recklessly, foolishly bouncing off one another. It really is a magical story.
And that’s quite a trick on Gaitskill’s part.
Still, she was full of humiliation and pain. She was full of anger at the boy and fear of him because she believed he’d caused her suffering. But because she still heard, without knowing what she was hearing, the plaintive message of his trapped soul, her abjection and anger were strangely mixed with tenderness and pity. She came out of the bathroom staggering a little; she already felt drunk.
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