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Veronica Hardcover – 11 Oct 2005


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 227 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon Books; First Edition edition (11 Oct. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375421459
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375421457
  • Product Dimensions: 14.8 x 2.4 x 21.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,305,226 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

?Gaitskill is enormously gifted...[Veronica] is a masterly examination of the relationship between surface and self, culture and fashion, time and memory? The New York Times Book Review ?This characteristically oblique glance at the US fashion modeling industry of the 1980s is written with all the psychological kick that distinguished Gaitskill?s last collection of stories? DJ Taylor, TLS Books of the Year ?Gaitskill writes so radiantly about violent self-loathing that the very incongruousness of her language has shocking power? The New York Times ?Gaitskill deserves some sort of monument [for this] beautiful, devastating new novel...There are paragraphs like poems in Veronica that lure you back, over and over? Elle --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Mary Gaitskill is the author of novel Two Girls, Fat and Thin, as well as the story collections Bad Behavior and Because They Wanted To, which was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award in 1998. Her stories and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine and Esquire. In 2002 she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for fiction. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 12 Jan. 2006
Format: Hardcover
Love, sex, death, friendship, illness, and pain - it's all here; boldly expounded on in Mary Gaitskill's disturbing and exquisitely written Veronica. Writing as though she is single-handedly redefining the genre of literary fiction, Gaitskill has written a compelling and persuasive story of a seemingly incompatible friendship in the age of AIDS.
Alyson first meets Veronica when she's working as a temp for an ad agency in New York City. Initially a little too forward, brash, and a little too hard to handle, Alyson is hesitant to befriend the slightly heavyset older woman who has difficulty making friends and is, at least to Alyson's eyes, an unmitigated fashion disaster.
When Veronica confides that she has contracted HIV from Duncan - her self-confessed bisexual boyfriend - Alyson, with a mixture of pity, compassion, and perhaps even love, adopts this abrasive, prissy, uncompressing woman, who doesn't know when to keep quiet, "she has a lot of smart cracks stored up. She needed them, when she didn't have them, she was naked and everybody saw."
But Alyson's friendship of Veronica is only part of the story: Gaitskill steadily charts Alyson, from her journey as a fashion model in decadent Paris and Manhattan of the 1980's, to her a claustrophobic childhood in suburban New Jersey, complete with an uncommunicative, reserved father, a wayward, nervy mother, and two very ordinary sisters.
We are first introduced to Alyson when she's fifty, the decadent hedonistic life of a model - the coke, the sex, the parties, and the beautiful people - a thing of the past.
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By Robin Friedman TOP 500 REVIEWER on 29 Nov. 2014
Format: Paperback
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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 82 reviews
44 of 49 people found the following review helpful
Compelling and repellent 17 Nov. 2005
By A Reader - Published on Amazon.com
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.
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Hurtling Towards Self-destruction 27 Aug. 2006
By J. Marren - Published on Amazon.com
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. Allison is sitting on a bus looking down at a car below:

"I look down on one now, just visible through her windshield, sparkling bracelets on hard forearm, clutching the wheel, a fancy-pant thigh, a pulled-down mouth, a hairdo. Bits of light fly across her windshield. I can see her mind beating around the closed car like a bird. Locked in with privileges and pleasures, but also with pain."

But at times I found it slow going, a bit overwritten. And the lives Gaitskill focuses on are destructive, hard and cruel. Allison's world is far from a kind one, and the "gratitude and joy" she feels towards Veronica after Veronica's death is the only gleam of light we see. "Veronica" wons many awards and lots of praise, I imagine for its writing and cold-eyed view of a hard world. But be prepared.
42 of 48 people found the following review helpful
Tom Casey reviews VERONICA 28 Nov. 2005
By Tom Casey - Published on Amazon.com
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.

Veronica is like those people who come into our lives through the back door, so to speak, and never leave. They are those friends we have that we often don't think of as friends, exactly. They are those irregulars who, for some reason, take notice of us; we keep them at a certain distance, we hear their stories, we don't approve of them, yet something about their vulnerability gives us courage to accept our humanity, and over time we discover that in this oblique connection we have learned something about love.

This is a very incomplete description what Gaitskill has created. Her story is a kaleidoscope of sensations and reflections taken from the myriad faces one meets in a lifetime of large and slight import, and those experiences, good and bad, that we have had and that others have had, from which at last we begin to draw conclusions about the world and find meaning for our lives. Mary Gaitskill's Veronica is a work of fiction carried to the level of art, something very rare indeed.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
A Novel of Lurid Beauty 26 Dec. 2006
By Robin Friedman - Published on Amazon.com
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. This gives the book a collage-like stream of consciousness quality which, while difficult to follow in places, enhances the force of the story.

In addition to its varied setting, "Veronica" tells a moving multi-faceted story. As a teenager, Alison ran away from home in New Jersey to San Francisco and works in the notorious North Beach area. With her naievety, she is taken advantage of by a man purporting to be a modeling agent. But for better or worse, this incident leads to Alison's opportunity to become a successful model in Paris. After experiences both glittering and sordid, she returns home and enrolls in junior college in New Jersey. The allure of the fast-paced glittery life proves irresitible to her. Alison moves to New York City and eventually again pursues fashion modeling.

Alison becomes friends with an eccentric woman named Veronica, sixteen years older than she is who has a bisexual male lover. The story is set near the onset of the AIDS epidemic, and Veronica's lover contracts AIDS and dies, and Veronica does as well. Alison and Veronica meet while Alison is temping and doing word-processing jobs in New York. The on-again off-again friendship deepens when Alison learns that Veronica has tested positive and she refuses to abandon her.

There is a great deal of rawness in this book and a sense, as Veronica says at one point, of living life on the edge. Alison is both repelled by the shallowness of her life and compelled to follow its allure. Her many ambivalences are at the heart of this novel. I was right to leave the beaten path of conventionality, Alison says to the reader in several places, to find my own path and to see the world in my own way. A major theme of the book lies in how close Gaitskill and Alison come in showing the reader the allure and the appeal of Alison's unconventional, bohemian life.

Alison struggles to learn, through her relationship with Veronica not only how to accept her own life but also how to come to terms with her parents and family and hear their stories and failed dreams as well as her own. Alison's parents had fought each other furiously during life. But Alison learns songs and music from her father -- popular songs from the 1940's and Verdi's Rigoletto play important roles in the story -- and poetry and allegorical stories from her mother. The book opens with a fairy tale Alison heard from her mother when young -- which Alison effectively acts out through the course of the story. Alison's ambition to become a poet seems to be forsaken as she pursues her modeling. Ironically, however, she realizes poetry in the brilliant quality of her narrative, dreams and reflections. Broken, despondent, and sick at the end of the book, there is a suggestion that Alison may find peace and hope.

This book is a raw, unsentimental and inspiring read. It manages to include many seemingly contradictory themes and attitudes. It is both surrealistic, as it moves in Alison's thought from her life in the present to the past, from place to place, and brutally precise and frank in its depiction of people and places. Superficiality is intertwined with depth in "Veronica" and in its characters. I was greatly moved by this book.

Robin Friedman
26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Beautiful, Beautiful Prose 11 April 2006
By Brett Benner - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I don't know if this book would be for everyone in it's sometimes gritty and seedy depiction of the 'glamorous life' of a former model reflecting on her life.However the writing is like reading poetry, with simple observations conveyed in an all sensory descriptiveness that's just stunning. The captivating first person narrative flashes from her childhood, to her present life, with the majority of the novel focusing on her relationship with a woman she briefly worked with, (Veronica), who gets AIDS from a bisexual lover. As I said before, the book certainly won't be for everyone, but it's truly an example of a writer who is brilliant at capturing moments with precision and breathtaking clarity.
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