‘Something Nice’ by Mary Gaitskill

Something Nice by Mary Gaitskill, 1988

The magic trick:

Demonstrating just how stupid, selfish and sad a man can be

Gaitskill absolutely puts men on blast in “Something Nice.” I mean, a total roast job.

The story is so slanted in the direction of shouting, “THIS MAN IS AN IDIOT,” it’s almost comical. The reader is told and then reminded several times that the man’s wife back home on Long Island is remarkable. She leaves him food when she leaves town. She’s a successful collector of rare books. Are you kidding?

But it’s not enough for our guy. Our guy Fred needs to visit the city, specifically an “escort” service.

Oh, but even that isn’t enough! He has to feel some kind of connection – no, some kind of ownership – with the prostitute he visits.

Again, the story could not be more clear here. Jane says over and over to him, you don’t know me, you wouldn’t like me.

He seems to think he’s exuding some kind of benevolent spirit when he says, no, no, you’re wonderful, you’re smart, you’re too hard on yourself.

It’s all ridiculous. But the crazy thing is that it feels right. Even with the entire scale tipped toward idiot, this character feels all too familiar. I’m pretty sure we all know men who seek this kind of condescending relationship with women. Maybe there’s a small part of all of us who need that. Scary stuff. And that’s quite on Gaitskill’s part.

The selection:

She looked up from the smiling lions. “You shouldn’t come to prostitutes looking for honesty.”

“You’re not a prostitute. Don’t say that about yourself.”

“What do you think I am?”

“You just happen to be a pretty, sexy girl who, uh – ”

“I have sex for money.”

“Well, all right.” He slapped her thigh nervously. “You’re right. You’re a prostitute.” It sounded so horrible. “But you’re still a wonderful girl.” He grabbed her and snuggled her.

“You don’t know me.”

“You’re wonderful.”

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