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Veronica: A Novel Hardcover – October 11, 2005

3.5 out of 5 stars 89 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [Signature]Reviewed by Heidi JulavitsImagine that Edie Sedgwick penned a roman à clef in her 50s, and that she discovered, in her ugly, diseased decrepitude, that celebrities and downtown loft spaces and skuzzy rich hangers-on were the nadir of existence. Imagine that she managed, in her own post–trauma-addled way, to convey a beautiful-ugly portrait of this life, and the life that followed that life, a life of cleaning offices and riding public buses, in a wincingly acute manner that allowed you not only to forgive the destructiveness in which her youthful self luxuriated but view it as a real human tragedy. This is the accomplishment of Veronica, or rather of Alison, who is the narrator and soul-wearied subject of Mary Gaitskill's second novel. Alison, who lived an Edie-ish life, has a face that is "broken, with age and pain coming through the cracks." Now in her 50s, she cleans her friend's toilet for money, she's sick with hepatitis and her "focus sometimes slips and goes funny";an apt description of her story's pleasing disorientation, a story which amounts to a nonchronological recounting of her "bright and scalding" past as she hikes feverishly up a hill. Alison's narration begins as a bracing account of her "gray present" from which she recalls her childhood and her years as a model in Paris and New York and the death of her friend Veronica from AIDS. A former inhabitant of a face-deep world, she cannot describe a person without first reducing his or her face to a single violent visual stroke ("his face was like lava turned into cold rock"). These descriptions;or dismissals;fail, on purpose, to render any character a visual flesh-and-blood presence; instead, Alison's way of seeing renders people distressingly naked. Of course no seasoned reader of Mary Gaitskill would expect a preeningly tragic book about the emotional pitfalls of modeling, and so where there might be an airbrushed homage to failing beauty or weepy nostalgia over formerly elastic body parts there are instead turds, sphincters, scars, wounds and other celebrated repugnancies. Gaitskill's style is gorgeously caustic and penetrating with a homing instinct toward the harrowing; her ability to capture abstract feelings and sensations with a precise and unexpected metaphor is a squirmy delight to encounter in such abundance. As the book progresses, Alison's gray present becomes subsumed by the scalding brightness of her past, until her sick and ugly self is all but obliterated from the pages; aside from the occasional reminder that Alison is climbing a hill, her sage hindsight collapses into the immediacy of her recollections, and Alison's shallow bohemian fixations again become her only story. The result is that her blunt honesty feels face, rather than soul, deep. It is hard to convey the tragedy of a girl in the prime of her beauty who savors the ugly way she experiences herself; it is more wrenching, and more in keeping with the gimlet-eyed clarity of the book's earlier pages, to convey the tragedy of the truly ugly woman, who once, despite her demurrals and insecurities, knew beauty. (On sale Oct. 11)Heidi Julavits is the author of two novels, The Mineral Palace and The Effect of Living Backwards. She is a founding editor of the Believer.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

Gaitskill's second novel is narrated over the course of a single day by an ailing former fashion model named Alison, now cleaning offices for a living, who ruminates on her glamorous youth and on her friendship with an older woman who died of AIDS. Her recollections range through the bohemian San Francisco of the late nineteen-seventies, the fashion worlds of Paris and New York in the eighties, and her family's claustrophobic but comforting home in suburban New Jersey. Gaitskill's distinctive prose often traverses decades and continents in a single paragraph, in a way that is more montage than narrative. When this ambitious approach succeeds, it yields startling revelations; when it doesn't quite come off, the result is a pleasant muddle. Recalling San Francisco prostitutes, Alison says, "Most of them weren't beautiful girls, but they had a special luster." An analogous allure pervades this book.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; First Edition edition (October 11, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375421459
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375421457
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #267,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I can think of no author since Virginia Woolf, and no book since Mrs. Dalloway, that achieves what Woolf called transparency as brilliantly as Mary Gaitskill has achieved it in her novel, Veronica. By transparency, Woolf meant a portrait of whole character; mind, feeling, past, present, motility; the process of thought and action by which we make our way in the world each day, the manner in which we absorb life around us and make emotions that teeter at the edge of sanity coherent; how we come to understand our fragile place in the world.

Mary Gaitskill's uncanny sense of how uneven life can be drives a narrative without rules, a story told according to the way we think, this impression or that triggering a memory, an impulse, or something more inchoate; a feeling not yet fully formed or half forgotten, an impression of the world made from a father's unfallen tears in a moment of frightening epiphany. Mary Gaitskill's novel is not about moral judgment, injury, guilt, forgiveness, or fate, it is about life: what it feel like to navigate the days, months, and years using what gifts we may have, surviving our follies, learning to face the truth about aging and mortality, and maybe gaining wisdom.

Alison may at first seem cold, somewhat passive and naïve, until we reflect that she is a teenage girl of uncommon attractiveness who has run away from home into a world of predators. She finds her way into a modeling career and copes with the advantages and pitfalls of sudden success, discovering a cycle of exploitation, rejection, and finally, failure. She leaves that flamboyant career and eventually finds a position as a word-processing temp for an advertising firm working the night shift. There she meets Veronica.
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Format: Hardcover
What a strange book. I had never read Mary Gaitskill -- a friend bought this for me after we both read the article about her in the New York Times. I found her writing style compelling and unique, but sometimes irritating. Her character observances cut to the bone very swiftly, but there are occasions when she seems to spin out in a vortex of meaningless poetical whatever, and then I would have to just skip the paragraph altogether. I would often have to reread something over and over again to get its meaning; sometimes I would finally grasp what she was getting at (and feel illuminated and really impressed by the knife-point of her skill), and other times she just lost me. The story is very dark and rather hopeless until the final paragraph (I'm still not sure how Alison comes to this final moment of redemption; I think it might be another Gaitskill poetical spin-out). I'm not sure why I should care about anything that went on in the story, but she did pull me in. Gaitskill's craft is in the tightness and economy of her character observations, her vivid fractions and moments. And yet I wasn't able to really 'see' Paris or New York (the characters could have been anywhere) and I'm not even convinced that Gaitskill came to know the modelling world of which she wrote. (I'm not convinced she's familiar with the HIV world either, though I might be wrong about that). Highly ambivalent about this book, obviously.
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Format: Paperback
"Veronica" is a complex portrait of a typical suburban girl, restless and bored, disaffected, scornful of the ordinary world around her. Yet Allison has incredible beauty and dabbles in modeling. She casually agrees to have her photos entered in a contest, and she is instantly catapulted into a world of money, drugs and brutal sex. The assurances of proper supervision given to her parents were nonsense, and she becomes the lover of Europe's most powerful agent. It all falls apart, of course; she returns home, tries to finish school, but is inevitably drawn to her former life. She misses her abusive agent, the drugs, the money, the glamour, all the things that almost destroyed her. When we last see her she is older, sick and alone.

Having said that, the book is nothing like that at all. It takes place in a day, as the middle aged Allison drags herself to work as a cleaning person, visits friends and trudges up a mountain in the rain to tire herself out so she can sleep. As she moves through this ordinary, dreary day, her mind skips back to the past, her glamorous and painful life, but most of all to Veronica. Veronica is an improbable friend for the then-elegant Allison; she's boistrous, badly dressed, and embarrasses Allison in public. Yet Veronica emerges as the only person Allison cares about. In the end, she realizes that Veronica saved her by allowing the cold Allison to pity her, and thus become human. It's a redemption of sorts, as Allison faces her own illness and death.

This is a difficult book to read and to write about! Gaitskill gives us a detailed, painful look at the world of modeling--talk about pity! And at times she is a wonderful writer.
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Format: Hardcover
I loved this novel. "Veronica" is freshly and honestly told with a perspective not often seen in serious fiction. The narrator is a woman named Alison. At the time we meet Alison, she is about fifty years old, alone, poor, broken and sick with hepatitis and other ailments. She lives in San Rafael, California and works as a cleaning woman for John, a photographer and former friend. Alison tells her story in the course of a day, as she cleans John's studio, takes a shabby bus towards home, and wanders up and down a hill in a forest reflecting upon her life.

Among the most striking features of "Veronica" is the varied sense of place, with five areas receiving particularized descriptions. The first is Hoboken, New Jersey, where Alison grew up in a family with angry, unhappy parents and two sisters. The second is San Franciso. At 16, Alison ran away and lived on the street selling flowers. The descriptions of the seedy North Beach areas of the city are among the most powerful in the book. A significant portion of the story is also set in Paris, as Alison becomes a famous fashion model and the mistress of a powerful and sinister agent. Gaitskill presents both the glamor and the underbelly of Parisian life, as seen through her young protagonist. The fourth major location described in the book is New York City. Alison meets her friend, Veronica, and has another temporary success working as a model. Gaitskill captures well the shimmer and pace of New York City life, in its cruelty and opportunity. The final setting of the book is San Rafael, California, where the aging and sick Alison makes her home and recounts her story. In the book, Gaitskill and her narrator shift repeatedly from one scene to another as Alison reflects upon her like.
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