Mary Gaitskill

On Weddings, Marriage and The Unbearable Reality Of Mortality
...And then sometimes life throws you for a loop. Case in point: After I wrote Mary Gaitskill’s publicist a quick note to say thanks for sending me a copy of her latest book “Someone With A Little Hammer”, I casually tossed in the line: “let me know if she’d ever be up for an interview”.  A few minutes later my inbox pinged: “Mary would love to. When?” Nine days later, Mary Gaitskill — American novelist, essayist, short story extraordinaire and my favorite living writer ever  —  showed up at the front door.  Silver hair, clear radiant complexion, equal parts angel and ghost. We sat in the shadows of my living room over mugs of mint tea and talked Peter Pan (“it’s about the pain of our biological reality”), Melania Trump (“she strikes me as complex”), and the yellow gold diamond solitaire and yellow gold wedding she wears on her fingers. Earnest, striking, terrifying —  a former stripper and teenage runaway turned National Book Award nominee whose vicious, vulnerable characters are as broken as they are beautiful — in person Gaitskill radiates a luminous calm that reminded me of a line from the St. Francis prayer: “Make me an instrument of your peace”.  But our interview was interrupted, mid-musings, by the appearance of my children, and after posing for a few photos, my literary hero disappeared into the afternoon as quick as she came. The whole thing reminded me of a line from her first book “Bad Behavior”: At times she had thought that this was the only kind of connection you could have with people—intense, inexplicable and ultimately incomplete.  — MRG

On Weddings:  “I’m not a person who loves weddings. I don’t hate them either. The first one I remember attending was a formal wedding in a Catholic church. Beautiful party, beautiful cake, very glamorous guests.  But the best man told me that the night before the groom called him drunkenly saying ‘I’ll only marry the ugly bitch as long as she knows I’m getting divorced the next day’. Going to the wedding knowing that was extremely weird.“


On Relationships: “I used to be very socially awkward. Back in the eighties, I lived in a cheap apartment in the West Village for $250 a month.  I was drawn to troubled people, because I could relate to them. I always had my radar on as high as possible, trying to stay aware of things because I knew I was very off-balance. There were a lot of vulnerable, struggling people back then, trying to be artists, and they were dealing with a complex social machine, which made them act bigger and tougher than they were. There was a whole hierarchy of beauty, power, talent and money. I went to a nightclub once, and the doorman tried to charge me and my date full price, and I said ‘fuck you’ and turned to walk away and then he said ‘the girl gets in for free’. That was before I had finished ‘Bad Behavior’ and OR ‘Two Girls [Fat And Thin]’. My day-to-day life was pretty boring — there was a a lot of drama with boyfriends who weren’t actually boyfriends  — just men I was sleeping with.”


On Meeting Her Husband: “We met in 1996. My editor at the time asked if I could lead a writing workshop for veterans of war. She knew a former Vietnam veteran who had been ordained as a Buddhist monk and was teaching at the Omega Institute. She also asked my [now] husband to teach. I was very suspicious of men at the time. I had been burned recently, and I didn’t trust them at all.  He called me before the workshop and told me he was a performance artist and had some ideas on how we could teach together. I was very rude. I said, ‘this is not a performance and I am not a performance artist’.  He told me that he hung up the phone and thought, ‘what a bitch’. Meanwhile, I was thinking, ‘who does he think he is, this dominating jerk?’ But when we met, he could tell I was not a bitch and he didn’t act rude at all. In fact, he was soft spoken and polite.”  

On The Proposal: “We had only been seeing each other for three months and he came to visit me and said he had a present. He handed over what was clearly a ring box and said ‘open it’ and I just started giggling out of embarrassment. He said, ‘I know you don’t want to get married but it might be fun to have a wedding’. I said, ‘I’ll think about it.’ He said — ’can you wear the ring when you think about it?’”


On Her Wedding:  “We were going to get married in June but my father died in February, and I was too upset to get married. We put it off until September.  I went to Barney’s to look for a wedding gown, but ended up finding a beautiful antique lace dress at a used clothing store.  I wore a full length slip and my veil was fucking amazing — full-length, antique Belgian lace. Afterwards, I packed it up in storage for my nieces. The wedding was September 15, 2001, four days after 9/11. This, of course we had not predicted. The wedding was in my friend’s huge backyard in Rhinebeck, and she landscaped it just for us and made a bower of trees. People came up from the city in shock and it was a good feeling to be able to give them a soft day in a beautiful space."

On Separation and Reconnection: “I separated from my husband in 2009 and we got back together in 2010. Then we separated again. We were never ugly to each other. We of course screamed and yelled at each other but we were never truly cruel. We never stopped caring about each other but still we were apart were for five years. One day, I was on the verge of sending him an email that said we should formally divorce just as he was emailing me to ask what I was doing for Christmas. I said I was going to see my family because my mother was sick, and he called me and spoke to my mother and I felt close to him again. No one understands your family situation like your spouse does. We later met up for coffee and one thing led to another. We got back together in 2014. We don’t live together now — he teaches in Pittsburg and I live in Williamsburg — but we are working towards it again. We are spending the Winter and Fall together."

On Style: “I know nothing about style, other than that it’s really important in writing. It’s more important than people realize. In terms of clothing and hair, style is relatively superficial. But in writing, it’s how the depth of your story is conveyed. It’s the horse it rides in on. If the style and content don't have that connection, the content is much less clear, much less developed."

On Her Favorite Fairytale: “Well it’s not a fairytale exactly, but it would have to be Peter Pan. It’s a very serious and heartbreaking story that really cuts to the core of mortality. Peter has a magic existence but he can never be grounded or down to earth. He has lived thousands of joys that no other boy would never know, but he doesn’t know the joy of having a family. Eventually, he stops coming back for Wendy and when he finally does years later, she’s an adult with a daughter. He doesn’t realize she’s an adult, though, because she’s sitting in a chair beside her daughter's bed, and when he says, ‘come away with me’, she says, ‘I can’t because I’m grown’. And when she stands up for him to see, he shrinks in terror. She smiles, but with pain; she thinks 'woman, woman, let go of me', but a woman is what she is and can't be let go of. He flies away with her daughter until her daughter ages out, too. The story is really about the sadness and profundity of our biological reality, the rules by which we are bound. How we can’t fly. How we can’t play forever. How we die and are replaced."


B+W Pic by by Sophie Bassouls/Corbis