James Marcus, who writes with a veteran’s experience, has the best reflections I’ve seen on the recently released nominations for this year’s National Book Critics Circle awards. Glad to see Mary Gaitskill’s Veronica pick up another nomination. I actually received this novel for Christmas and had commenced reading it when it met with an awful fate that I won’t detail here except to fleetingly speculate that my cat is secretly in the employ of Pantheon Books. If I was hesitating to buy a second copy, this latest manifestation of apparent critical unanimity in Gaitskill’s favor is likely to nudge me off of the fence in the direction of the bookstore. Full disclosure: I worked for the publisher of Gaitskill’s first two books, the short story collection Bad Behavior and the novel Two Girls, Fat and Thin (shame about the paperback edition’s terrible cover art, by the way), and admired both excessively. When Gaitskill’s second book of stories, Because They Wanted To, came along, I found the first few stories disappointing and put it aside, and wondered how partisan my embrace of the previous books had been. Subsequent rereadings proved it to be genuine and deserved, and I awaited the arrival of a second Gaitskill novel in a state of anticipation that is now trebled, at least.
Clearly I am going to replace the book.
But tonight I was placating myself with random snippets of Two Girls, and I found a passage to carry me back to the subject of my most recent post, Henry James, and the “idea of an inner self or, in other words, of concealment”:
The boundaries of my inner world did not extend out, but in, so that there was a large area of blank whiteness starting at my most external self and expanding inward until it reached the tiny inner province of dazzling color and activity that it safeguarded, like the force field of clouds and limitless night sky that surrounded the island of Never-Never Land.
Justine Shade, the speaker here, is a sad, solemn woman with a grim past. That she has an inner life so vibrant with “dazzling color and activity” but so deeply buried is an ambivalent wonder. I love Gaitskill’s subtle variation on a common way of representing the embattled self: we often imagine a troubled person swaddling herself in the padding of some false persona in order to guard a true, inner self that is breakable, but we–or at least I–almost never imagine that what such a person is foremost protecting is a kind of happiness. With prose that’s beautifully unpolished, Gaitskill has a way of showing you what you might already know without realizing it.
Moving along from one lit cabal to another, the entire slate of winter nominees is being revealed, one day at a time, at the Litblog Co-op this week. Entries from nominators Dan Wickett and Sam Golden Rule Jones are already up for your delectation.