PLOT– Don’t Cry: Stories, is a collection of shorts by Mary Gaitskill. Many of the stories deal with loneliness, desire, and stunted communication.
LIKE- I found this collection while perusing my favorite bookstore, Skylight Books, in Silverlake, California. I loved the cover, there is something wonderful in the juxtaposition of mirror balls and the title, Don’t Cry, that drew me to this collection. I had remembered encountering Gaitskill’s stories, although none from this collection, in a writing class.
Gaitskill has the gift of deeply understanding human nature and the ability to write with empathy. Many of her characters are not particularly likable, yet they exhibit qualities that are familiar, even if we would not want to admit that we possess them: such as jealousy, pettiness, and anger. This familiarity makes for an uncomfortable read in the best possible sense. I like stories that rattle me and make me feel discomfort.
Overall, Don’t Cry: Stories is a strong collection, that I forced myself to read slowly, to savor Gaitskill’s writing, and to let the poignancy soak in. Here are are few stand-out stories.
Don’t Cry – This title story is the last in the collection. The narrator has recently lost her husband, and she is now traveling to Ethiopia, with her friend Katya, who hopes to adopt a child. The adoption is not as smooth of a process as they had hoped, and in addition to bureaucracy at the orphanage, they arrive during a time of political upheaval, putting them in a physically dangerous situation. This is a story of overwhelming guilt, as the narrator reveals details of her relationship with her husband, while trying to process the guilt that she feels trying to help her friend adopt a child from a poverty stricken country. What I loved most about this story, is the way the suspense unfolds. It’s filled with tension, and was the most gripping story in the collection.
Mirror Ball– I loved the theme of Mirror Ball, which follows the decline of a short-lived relationship, where a boy breaks a girls heart, and with it, physically keeps a part of her soul. He has the souls of all of the women that he has broken in his apartment, but when the main female character is healed from their relationship, he no longer has possession of her. It beautifully written, poetic and ethereal. I love the idea that in overcoming heart break, you can reclaim what you lost or temporarily gave away to someone who did not deserve it. It’s a type of revenge story really.
The Little Boy– A senior woman connects with a little boy at an airport terminal, in a way that she fails to connect with her own grown children. I liked this story for Gaitskill’s perceptive look at family dynamics and relationships. It isn’t pretty, but what she writes about regarding dynamics and lack of communication rang true to me. I don’t have any family left alive, but this story made me long for a second chance to fix certain communication issues with my family. It made my heart hurt.
DISLIKE– Although the collection is strong, and Gaitskill is a gifted writer, I did find myself unevenly interested in the stories. They did not all grab my attention, my mind drifted.
RECOMMEND– Yes. If you’re a short story fan, Gaitskill should be on your radar, and Don’t Cry: Stories, should be on your TBR list.