Thursday, June 05, 2008

The New Yorker: "Don't Cry" by Mary Gaitskill

Although because of the subject matter (adoption) and the setting (Ethiopia) I was captivated by this story, what I will remember about it most is that I have written and published a story that resembles it in some ways (“The White Swan” in The Hub). In Gaitskill’s story, Janice has accompanied Katya to Ethiopia where Katya intends to adopt a baby, bypassing both American and Ethiopian adoption agencies. Janice is available for the trip because her husband Thomas has recently died (he’s been slipping away due to Alzheimer’s for some time). In my story, a couple travels to China to adopt a baby through more customary channels. In both stories there are, naturally, complications that threaten to halt the adoption process although, I have to say, that Katya, confronted with her adoptee’s mother, has a more emotional roadblock than my characters do. Meanwhile, Janice is remembering and—in an aspect of this story I do not like at all—dreaming about her late husband. Fiction is phoniness that can get at truth, but dreams are just plain phony, in my book, and I do not like how they are used here. Why could memory not serve the purpose? Why use dreams? The point to be made about Thomas is that although Thomas had children from his first marriage, he and Janice had none together and she now regrets that. The dreams added nothing. So then Katya gets her baby after all and, like the characters in my story, now she and Janice face some difficulty getting home. For her there is a local election violence in Ethiopia, for my characters it is a snowstorm in Virginia after they have arrived on their flight from China. Either way, these are conflicts over which the characters have no control, although the choices they make when confronted with these uncontrollable conflicts are revealing of character.

I like the ending of this story, although it is perhaps a little too neat. Katya is looking into the future and thinking about what she will say to her son about her mother if he asks one day. The best thing about it, for me, is what she decides she will tell him. I won't tell you what that is.

June 9 & 16, 2008: “Don’t Cry” by Mary Gaitskill (this story is not online)


Lucinda said...

I thought that the difficulties of getting that child was as much work as going through 9 months of pregnancy...for both characters, but mostly for Katya. The dream sequences and in fact, all the parts about Janice's husband, were less interesting to me. I liked the story a lot, but it would have been better with more editing.

Paul Epstein said...

I certainly agree with Lucinda about the poor quality of the editing. I have noticed a trend in New Yorker fiction of glaring technical flaws or inaccuracies which the editor somehow misses. For example, we read here "There were some Italians talking about the election a few tables over; we heard them say something about getting out of the country." This simply makes no sense at all!! Either, for some bizarre reason, the Italians were speaking in English or both Katya and the narrator just happen to know Italian, despite no prior reference to Italy in the story. (Notice the "we" in the quoted sentence.) Could the fiction editor wake up please??