Thursday, May 25, 2023

Recent Acquisitions

The VGH Thrift Store on East Hastings near Slocan remains my favourite place for used books. I was there Tuesday and saw three books I'd been meaning to read, all of them side by side. The first was the Penguin Modern Classics edition of Thomas Mann's Death in Venice (1912), which I had read as a teen (with his two shorter novellas, Tristan, 1903, and Tonio Kröger, 1901, included); an almost impossible book to find these days in Matthew Derby's language-writing-to-the-point-of-science fiction, Super Flat Times (2003); and a book I had been meaning to read -- the kind of book you only buy if you see it before you -- Mary Gaitskill's  Bad Behaviour (1988).

I "met" Mary Gaitskill during those Ryberg curated YouTube presentations back in the late-2000s. After my presentation text was published, Mary wrote me a note, which was very nice, and I made a point of adding her to my To-Read list. I'd made a similar point some years before when writer Evelyn Lau told me she preferred Mary Gaitskill's short stories to her novels, an unexplained preference apart from the context of our conversation, which, now that I think about it, concerned Evelyn being done with prose. "Bad Behaviour," said Evelyn nodding. "Yeah, Bad Behaviour's the one you want to read first."

Yesterday I read the first story in Bad Behaviour, "Daisy's Valentine". This is a story that would never be published today because Evil goes unpunished and no one triumphs. Nor is mental health treated with care. Nor is drug dependency explained. Nor is there any evil.

Joey works in the clerical division of a giant used bookstore in Manhattan, where he stumbles upon(?) an attraction to Daisy, who, like Joey, is in a relationship. Joey pursues Daisy, who warns him she's only attracted to those who treat her poorly, and Joey seems fine with that. In fact, as things move along one gets the sense that no matter how bleak their lives are each has met their match. Upon completion of the story I thought of a grittier Raymond Carver, who anyone with any interest in writing stories was reading at that time, and another story collection that wouldn't be published for another four years, Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son (1992).

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