Book: Because They Wanted To

Cover image

Because They Wanted To: Stories

Author: Mary Gaitskill
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Gaitskill’s complex, urgent characters struggle with the disparity between what they want and what they know. Longing for emotional connection, they often mistake debasement for passion, manipulation for affection, cruelty for intensity. In “Tiny, Smiling Daddy,” a father suffers his ambivalent love for a daughter who has betrayed him—perhaps justly. In “The Girl on the Plane,” a disillusioned salesman must face his participation in a brutal act he has almost forgotten. In “Kiss and Tell,” a writer seeks revenge on a woman who rejected him, only to find that once he has achieved it, he no longer wants it. In “The Wrong Thing,” a lonely, emotionally injured woman involved in a set of skewed, apparently trivial sexual encounters unexpectedly discovers her own life-giving reserve of humility, gentleness, and compassion.


Reading a Mary Gaitskill short story is like getting into a no-holds-barred fight: mean, raw, and dangerous. She’s fond of portraying characters who seem strangely comfortable living in emotional extremity. She never takes the safe route through a story; in fact, she’ll choose the low road every time. The title story places a runaway girl in care of abandoned children. Where many writers would seek out some faint ray of redemption or hope, Gaitskill concentrates on the grime in the cracks of the linoleum. In “The Girl on the Plane,” a bitter man confesses his participation in a brutal act to a stranger, but the confession brings no solace. These stories practically shake with tension. In the final long story of this collection, “The Wrong Thing,” Gaitskill picks up the tale after the breaking point, as she gracefully illuminates the life of a woman piecing together the fragments of her sexual and emotional history. Because They Wanted not only fulfills the promise of her previous short-story collection Bad Behavior and the novel Two Girls, Fat and Thin, it takes us to a higher place.

Views: 621 • Modified: • Elapsed: 0.016 sec