The Hidden Chambers in the Heart

This is a beautiful review by Parul Seghal of Mary Gaitskill’s latest book. For example:

Hawthorne ‘‘is aware of the hidden chambers in the heart,’’ he told me. ‘‘He is aware that there are things that people won’t talk about and there are things that people can’t talk about — and those aren’t the same things. He wants to reveal all those layers.’’ Gaitskill’s fiction unfolds in these psychological spaces; she knows that we, unlike plants, don’t always grow toward the light, that sometimes we cannot even be coaxed toward it.

And then this beautiful setting of a scene:

Two weeks later, I took a train to Tivoli, N.Y., a small town in the Hudson Valley where Gaitskill used to live and where she was visiting friends. This is the trip Velvet experiences in ‘‘The Mare,’’ the same shock of tumbling out of the sweltering city into a world so tended, so white and gaudily green. Gaitskill came to collect me from the station. She wore a soft-looking Mets Tshirt, jeans, running shoes — all gray, a gray that almost matches her hair. The effect, from a distance, was rather like chain mail. She was more aloof today, slightly hooded. ‘‘Brace yourself for the preciousness,’’ she said as we drove into town, passing yoga studios and expensive sandwich shops and a laundromat called the Lost Sock.

It was the late-afternoon lull, and most everything was shuttered. No one would sell us an expensive sandwich. We bought lemonade and cookies and sat outside a cafe in the strong sun. Immediately, Gaitskill started rehashing our last discussion, irritated by some of my questions. She thought them foolish. She is fluent when forceful, all the hesitation drains from her voice.

I told her I understood. I told her I was sorry. I told her we would have to discuss these things anyway. (I had asked if her book was bleak or happy, and about how her work had been regarded by critics.) She’s right not to want to focus entirely on the reception of her work — but how else could we correct misconceptions? How else could we discuss the life a book leads in the world? Her pique passed. She seemed satisfied, even, it felt to me, soothed that I could — or would — push back, however pleasantly. But I was left unsettled and alert, eating my cookie in large dry gobs. I thought of a line from ‘‘The Mare’’: ‘‘It felt like she was pressing on my weak spot, just to see what would happen.

Read the whole thing, if you’re feeling literary.

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