Living with obsession


Mary Gaitskill <em>Serpent’s Tail, 272pp, £10.99</em>

Veronica is a novel of symbiosis – beauty and cruelty, glamour and decay, Veronica and Alison. In this tale told in the present day but focused firmly on the 1980s, Alison thinks back over a life of fleeing those who need her, running even as she clings to them.

After a meandering life in Paris and San Francisco, Alison settles in New York in an office job. She meets Veronica, a woman twice her age, as lurid and fake as her red fingernails, who senses Alison’s troubles as if they were an aura.

An unlikely bond blossoms, and then withers as Veronica is diagnosed with Aids.

Combining the life-in-a-day format of Mrs Dalloway with the themes of Bret Easton Ellis, Mary Gaitskill has crafted a unique work that reaffirms her position as chronicler of America’s underbelly. Of particular note is that she considers Aids from a female perspective, while 1980s literature tended to make it a male issue.

Rarer still is the authenticity that emanates from the book, perhaps influenced by Gaitskill’s colourful life. The prose radiates Alison’s gleeful aggression, self-loathing and self-obsession – an obsession in a life already lived and gone. And as such, anyone looking for a wider critique of the huge social change that took place in 1980s America will be disappointed.

This article first appeared in the 05 November 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Iraq uncovered