Veronica: A Novel
by Mary Gaitskill
A review by Anna Godbersen
Make no mistake: Veronica, Mary Gaitskill's darkly gorgeous second novel, is about a friendship between two women that endures through sickness and health, but it is not that sort of novel about a friendship between women enduring through sickness and health. For one thing, there's not all that much health; when the book opens, Veronica has already died of AIDS, and Alison, the narrator, is suffering from hepatitis C and a variety of other ailments. Their friendship began when they were both working the nighttime proofreading shift, but the real beginning of their friendship was Veronica's illness. And then there is Alison's past as a runaway and then a model, complete with bowls of cocaine and borderline-abusive sex ("being torn open felt like love to me"). Their friendship was not a warm and fuzzy one; Veronica (prissy, anal, loud-mouthed) is often embarrassing to Alison, and Alison finds herself only intermittently able to help her friend manage her disease. The New York/Paris/California of this novel is, in fact, a world in which it is very hard to know anyone, what with the suits they button themselves up in.
The present-tense part of this novel is set in the Bay Area, sometime around now, over a single day in which Alison, now in her mid-forties and not in the best shape, cleans an old friend's office for extra money, and takes a walk. But Veronica is mostly set in memory. It is a glittering mindscape, composed as much of the kind of perfect sentences you would expect from the author of classic eighties minimalist stories ("A whine comes into my voice, like an animal showing its ass"), as bizarre twists of the imagination. These are the fantasies that breed in glamour's shadow; this is the mind watching the body (beautiful, absurd, sad, funny) fall apart.
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