Ironically, the advanced fiction class I'm taking leaves little time for writing, but it affords big reading opportunities. Like Mary Gaitskill whose short, Tiny, Smiling Daddy, I read last week. Gaitskill's writing is not comfort food. It doesn't warm your palate. It's a cup of coffee laced with hot, hot, hot sauce (yes, I've tried this—unwittingly). It burns and curdles inside. And Gaitskill doesn't walk hand-in-hand with you through the park on one of those perfectly cloudless summer afternoons. Rather, she tends to push and poke you through a dark, sweaty, stalactite and stalagmite studded cave that appears to be closing in on you. Mighty spears threatening to impale and devour from head to toe.
But what is so terrifyingly good about Gaitskill's writing is that she gets to our demons—the base, primordial madness of neither good nor bad people—exposing demonic sensibilities and the way we live and/or cope with them (or the way we bury them in that Cimmerian cavern, or drown them in its murky pool). And she's master of matching simple plot with thorny theme and narrative.
This past February The New Yorker *uncharacteristically* published her short story The Other Place. (Perhaps, a turning point for The New Yorker?) It is a haunting piece about a father's obsession with violence. Women and violence. Bad thoughts that dangle out there in the periphery. In that other place. And because this story begins perfectly normal (however that my be defined) and naturally, it is all the more jarring. Because she writes it from the father's point of view, makes it all the more real.
Gaitskill's story examines that other place inside us all. The darker place. It's a place I often try to write about in my fiction. While my writing here tends to be light and airy, my fiction takes on much darker themes. Maybe that's because I'm keenly aware of the light and dark sides, and the common wall they share. I think being a parent sort of nudges that. Or maybe it's that I feel I'd be less aware if I were not so responsible for the shaping of little ones.
Good and evil reside in all of us, but it's our conscience that holds the keys to the duplex's doors. Gaitskill explores more of that here. I can't seem to stop exploring it everywhere.