In which I cast into the past and snag a barracuda

So last weekend and early this week was a whirlwind of online dating drama, but things have since mellowed, which is cool only it doesn’t provide much in the way of fodder for this here blog.

To remedy that allow me to turn back the clock, to when I first started online dating, signing up pretty much on a whim and plopping down a whole year’s subscription on eHarmony — why not just a six months, or only three even, just to test the waters? Why? Ah, well. Matters not now. Nothing to be done about it.

This particular cast into the past lands us firmly at the end of October, just before Halloween, the most Generation X of all the holidays in my humble but masterfully astute opinion — do not question my author-a-tie! In fact, it was exactly the 30th of the month, when I was first matched with the first woman I would ever date via any online service — I was on yahoo singles (or whatever it is) briefly during my separation but had no luck with it, unlike my ex but that’s a whole other gripe. Anyhoo… back to my online first, the woman who popped my online dating cherry. Let’s call her, oh, say ….Lydia.

Lydia was anything but a tatooed lady — trust me I had ample access and time to investigate — but she was very cool all the same. Or so I thought. What snagged me was how much we had in common in terms of movies and a penchant for reading and TV. Also, she was quite witty, at least at first. Plenty of witty banter  via eHarmony email, which Lydia suggested we abandoned for regular email since being eHarmony wasn’t very, in her words, “work friendly,” by which I now understand her to mean that she was at least slightly embarrassed to be utilizing. I wonder, is she still? Meh. Hardly matters now, does it.

What followed was a barrage of emails, at first, and then chatting via gmail chat. The more we communicated the more we seemed to click. Finally, Lydia suggested we meet. I was all for that. I suggested either Royal Oak or Ferndale as there is much to do  in both places. She put the kibosh on both. “No Royal Oak. No Ferndale,” she insisted. Fine by me although I was more than a bit curious as to why. What was wrong with these places? I supposed I would find out in time. Instead, we met at a bar in Troy, little neighborhood place. We had  drink and talked, and were comfortable enough to order some food. We talked some more. And it seemed to me that the more we talked the more we seemed to click. I was excited to hit it off with someone so quickly. I had been more than tad skeptical of the whole process, and not willing to get my hopes up. But I was wrong. This chick was cool.

And then… Well, apparently for our second date I was not nearly Johnny-on-the-spot enough for her likingI was chastized via chat for not asking her out in the right way, in the right time. Would we have ever gone out had she not suggested it? Fuck if I knew. I was instructed that I needed to ask her out early in the week so that she could properly plan her week and weekends. And fuck me if I didn’t agree. Anyone I told this too insisted it was a red flag. And I did not deny it but for some reason I ignored the warnings.

So we went out on a few more dates through November, leading up to her birthday, for which I decided to get her something. Nothing serious, something fun. I got her days of the week underpants because we both liked the movie “When Harry Met Sally”. I did not expect her to ever even wear them. Also, I got her Reese’s Peanutbutter Cups because chocolate and peanutbutter are her favorite. And a little convertible Hot Wheels car because we’d had a joke — she’d asked me what I was getting her for her bday, and I said, nothing big, just a car. She requested a convertible. There was also a card and a collection of short stories that I hoped she might like, “Bad Behavior”, by Mary Gaitskill. She seemed to like the gifts all around.

Things progressed into December and we actually spent part of Christmas Day together. I introduced her to my brother and his partner. They seemed to like her. My birthday came up and she got me two seasons of SCRUBS on DVD. And we made plans to spend New Year’s Eve together, which we did. I made her dinner, homemade pasta and meatballs, a salad, some wine, a dessert. By New Year’s Day she was done with me. It was clear. She just wouldn’t or couldn’t say it. And for some reason I hung around. Still not sure why.

There were plenty of other red flags and drama and gipes I’d love to expound upon. But I’ll get into those next time. I’m tired.


Mary Gaitskill’s new short story collection

According to, Mary Gaitskill’s new collection of short stories is titled Don’t Cry. A good title, I think.

Release date: March 24, 2009


Product Description
Following the extraordinary success of her novel Veronica, Mary Gaitskill returns with a luminous new collection of stories–her first in more than ten years.
In “College Town l980,” young people adrift in Ann Arbor debate the meaning of personal strength at the start of the Reagan era; in the urban fairy tale “Mirrorball,” a young man steals a girl’s soul during a one-night stand; in “The Little Boy,” a woman haunted by the death of her former husband is finally able to grieve through a mysterious encounter with a needy child; and in “The Arms and Legs of the Lake,” the fallout of the Iraq war becomes disturbingly real for the disparate passengers on a train going up the Hudson–three veterans, a liberal editor, a soldier’s uncle, and honeymooners on their way to Niagara Falls.
Each story delivers the powerful, original language, and the dramatic engagement of the intelligent mind with the craving body–or of the intelligent body with the craving mind–that is characteristic of Gaitskill’s fiction. As intense as Bad Behavior, her first collection of stories, Don’t Cry reflects the profound enrichment of life experience. As the stories unfold against the backdrop of American life over the last thirty years, they describe how our social conscience has evolved while basic human truths–“the crude cinder blocks of male and female down in the basement, holding up the house,” as one character puts it–remain unchanged.

Neverland begets Desperate Characters

This morning I was listening to’s book club discussion panel. The book under discussion was Netherland, a novel that I began reading several weeks ago but never finished. I’d meant to return to it but, as with so  many books, that never came to pass. I was drawn to it originally based on the NY Times Book Review review that I read.

The three people on the book club panel loved the book. They gushed over it, in fact, one suggesting that it might be better understood 50 years from now. Sometimes I wonder if people will be reading at all in 50 years, much less reading novels that had been written 50 years ago. I remember liking the book, what I read of it anyway, but something about the tone seemed to put me off. I don’t know. It almost seemed kind of whiney. And when the book club panel read portions of the book, I didn’t hear the grandness in the prose that they did, although I thought it was well written. In anycase, I can’t not now recall what book I wanted to read instead.

An interesting dichotomy that formed in the discussion involved the two women seeming to focus on the novel as one about a marriage and how it worked and didn’t work, and why marriage fail or succeed, in addition to the novel being set in context with the events of 9/11. While the one man pointed out that the novel was also a sports novel, because it was very much about the game of cricket, which the narrator seems to throw himself into after his wife leaves him.

It made me think about the kinds of stories that I like. If a book is good it doesn’t really matter to me what it is about, but I do tend to prefer stories about youth and youth culture, the lives of people as the struggle toward and into adulthood. Domestic novels, as they are often called, don’t attract me nearly as much. I do  not shun them but if that is what a book is mainly about I’m less inclined to start it at all. There needs to be something else going on in the story.

For example, White Noise by Don Dellilo, which I am currently reading is about a married couple and their children/step-children. In fact, I think for the male narrator this is his 4th marraige, which is a particular kind of dynamic that I like least of all in domestic novels. It just seems to me that there has been an obessive attention to the lives of divorced Boomers, for the most part. Although I am a big fan of Updike who seems to write almost exclusively about that sort of thing. But then he is an amazing writer. White noise is also something Jonathan Franzen calls a systems novel, which he did in an essay in his collection of essays, How to be Alone, which esentiall means that is, at least in part, about the working of the culture or society and what is at play, forces that effect our lives, perhaps in a controlling way, perhaps an ominious way. I like that.

But I’d prefer to read Mary Gaitskill or Douglas Coupland than say, Ann Tyler or Jane Smiley.

Something else I noted during the course of the book club discussion was how the guy on the panel referred at least twice to zombies — being in a zombie-like state, people acting like zombies, etc. This of course stood out for me becaues I have an active interest in zombie stories, movies, etc. Zombies, I think, are to this particualy time, since 2000, what Vampires were to the 80s and 90s. Ann Rice and all that. There seems to be a cultural relevance to the mythology of zombies, the imagery, the nature thereof, etc. I don’t think it is a coincedence that there has been of late an upsurge in zombie movies and books. For my money, The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, which won The Pulitzer for fiction and was actually, surprisingly to me, an Oprah book, is at a certain level a zombie novel. In any case, I found the reference intersting.

There was also a reference to a novel that caught my attention. The two women both referred to Desperate Characters by Paula Fox, which was pub’d in 1970 and is set in Brooklyn, New York. Not surprisingly it is a story about a couple, a marriage, and the women both thought it was amazing where the guy had never heard of it. I was intrigued and turns out the library where I work has a copy. So I nabbed. Hopefully, I’ll get around to reading it. It seems to be Fox’s most popular work and was made into a movie in 1971.

At the outset it doesn’t seem like my kind of book, but I’m going to try and give it a try. It’s slim.

Mary Gaitskill has a new story….

…in the Summer Fiction Issue of The New Yorker, entitled, Don’t Cry. Unfortunately, the online version of The New Yorker only has the abstract of the story, but trust me it is worth the price of the mag for this story alone.

Mary Gaitskill is one of those writers that when I first discovered her I couldn’t believe my luck. It actually troubled me that I might have missed her somehow and never read her stuff. Although that hardly seems possible now, especially since her last novel, Veronica, was a finalist for the National Book Award, and her short story, Secretary, was made into a movie staring James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal, a descent adaptation but not as good as the story.

Gaitskill is on a short list of authors who, when they publish something new, gives me something of a chubby I’m so giddy about it. This list includes, but is not necessarily limited, to the following: Cormac McCarthy, Tobias Wolff, Stuart Dybek, Jay McInerney, Brett Easton Ellis, Charles D’Ambrosio, Junot Diaz, Dan Chaon, Pinckney Benedict, Thom Jones, David Foster Wallace, Douglas Coupland.

I discovered Mary Gaitskill when I was in grad school, getting my MFA in creative writing at Western Michigan. The program brought her in to read and give an informal talk with students. I got her first collection of short stories, Bad Behavoir, which is one of my favorite titles of all time for a collection, and read it over and over. In fact, I still go back to it and reread the stories from time to time. I approached her, to try and engage her somehow in discussion, but it didn’t go over very well. Oh, she talked to me, but you could tell she wasn’t entirely comfortable doing so. I got her to sign her copy of Bad Behavoir, which I also found in first edition hardcover.

I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to call Gaitskill a Gen X author. Many of her stories definitely possess an Xer ethos, delving into that youth culture world that exists between adolescence and adulthood.

One of the things that I really dug about Gaitskill’s early work was that some of her stories were set in Michigan. She attended The University of Michigan where she won a Hopwood Award. That, and she wrote about sex in a very interesting way, about women who worked as prostitutes, and people who were into a kind of S&M or role playing, but without being salacious or pornographic, you know. She took these characters seriously and treated them honestly thus giving them dimension and depth.

According to the author profile for Gaitskill in The New Yorker, she has a new collection coming out early next year. I am psyched, of course, and will now be obsessively checking for its release.