Monday, April 04, 2016

What we're reading: Books for grownups

I’ve been reading a lot of young adult and graphic novels lately, so when I finished Veronica, by Mary Gaitskill, my first thought was, "That was a grown-up book for grownups." Gaitskill is a serious writer with a knack for bringing the messier side of life into sharp focus.

Veronica is narrated by an aging model, Alison, reflecting on her life and her relationship with the title character. Veronica is a woman almost 20 years older than Alison, whom she meets while taking a break from modeling to work as an office temp. They are an incongruous pair: Alison is young and beautiful, Veronica is older, brash, and unattractive. Their friendship confuses everyone. It’s New York in the 1970s and '80s. Alison has fled Paris after a disastrous modeling stint, and has returned to the New York determined to quit the business. In America, the AIDS epidemic is raging, and eventually catches up to Veronica, who is involved with a philandering partner.

It is an unusual way to frame a story. There are long stretches in which Veronica is barely mentioned at all. Imagine someone you worked with for a short amount of time and kept in touch with only sporadically, telling the story of your life. Yet Gaitskill is a master of depicting the vagaries of complex female friendships. I won’t say this was a fun read, but Veronica’s deadpan remarks were hilarious, and the book was so chock-full of insight into the human condition that it kept me turning the pages for more.

Reviewed by Laura M., reference librarian

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