Mary Gaitskill and the Art of Progressive Perversion

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Prudes beware: Writer Mary Gaitskill—once called the “Downtown princess of darkness”—earned her nickname from the oftentimes “taboo” subject material showcased in her books: drug use, prostitution, sex work, and sadomasochism. But while her writing is indeed dark, it’s funny too; It’s her raw characters—and her utter nonjudgment of them as a narrator—that makes her work so punch-in-the-gut progressive.

“We are phobic of weakness, we treat it like a contagion, averting our eyes and hoping for the best,” writes Parul Sehgal in her 2015 New York Times profile of Gaitskill, “But Gaitskill puts her fingers in the wound.”

Check out the current span of Gaitskill’s writing career with these works: her first (Bad Behavior, DB 28617), which includes the short story “Secretary”—inspiration for the 2002 film starring Maggie Gyllenhaal of the same name—and her latest (The Mare, DB 84180), both available from our collection.

Bad Behavior
DB28617

The characters, mostly young New Yorkers, engage in destructive behavior. Unable to form lasting relationships, they become involved in drugs, prostitution, and sadomasochism in an attempt to mask their real feelings of emotional numbness. Some strong language and some descriptions of sex. 1988.

The Mare
DB84180

Velvet Vargas leaves her rough home life in Brooklyn when she visits upstate New York as part of a charitable program. There she stays with sponsors Paul and Ginger, and she is drawn to the neighboring horses, especially one unruly mare. Strong language and some descriptions of sex. 2015.