Give it to someone you want to talk to . . . It is time to have these conversations, to explore the nuances . . . Mary Gaitskill, who practically invented female sexual agency in her 1988 debut collection, Bad Behavior . . . is just the person to take on the task of questioning #MeToo’s harasser vs. victim scenarios in a fictional context.” —Marion Winik, The Washington Post
“A tale for our time, if ever there was one.” —Katy Thompsett, Refinery29
“Incendiary . . . Enigmatic and ambiguous . . . In This Is Pleasure, one of our greatest living writers brings to the most inflammatory of topics nuance, subtlety, and a capacious humanity that grants mercy even as it never excuses.” —Priscilla Gilman, The Boston Globe
“A must-read.” —People
“Clean, rigorous prose . . . An exquisitely compressed, morally tangly saga [that] gets deep under your skin . . . [Gaitskill] writes fiction that militates against easy answers.” —Johanna Thomas-Corr, The Sunday Times (London)
“[A] timely, provocative work . . . This Is Pleasure dares to seek nuance in the #MeToo orthodoxy.” —Kurt Wenzel, The East Hampton Star (The Year’s 10 Best Books)
“A brilliant expedition across the minefields of the #MeToo wars. Detailing the fall of a massively handsy New York book editor, it’s a deft and funny and thought-provoking story, and it never shies away from the most difficult truths, such as the way that men who genuinely listen to women can subsequently get away with almost anything. Gaitskill’s fiction gets close in to the migraine whine of the contemporary moment like that of few others.” —Kevin Barry, The Irish Times
“Formidable . . . In fewer than 100 pages, Gaitskill achieves a superb feat. She distils the suffering, anger, reactivity, danger and social recalibration of the #MeToo movement into an extremely potent, intelligent and nuanced account. She pares a single story from the chorus of condemnations, with their similarities, varieties, truths and perceptions, and through select incidents and emotional focus we see the complex details of the wider picture. It takes an expert in short fiction to condense such a difficult subject, while allowing the reader interpretive space. Gaitskill is phenomenally gifted at the metaphysical microcosmic. She makes the abstruse world clearer. There are many ways the topic will be tackled in literature. This Is Pleasure sensitively and confidently holds its fury, momentum, contrary forces and imperfect humanity within a perfect frame.” —Sarah Hall, The Guardian
“A valuable contribution to the discussion surrounding this fraught topic.” —Harvey Freedenberg, Book Reporter
“This insightful fictional take on a #MeToo scandal offers fresh perspectives and avoids easy answers . . . Gaitskill’s willingness to ignore common wisdom and consider controversial and complex questions from different viewpoints is a true literary pleasure.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“At the heart of this extraordinary, daring, provocative, pitch perfect story lies the idea that, sometimes, we act out a truth, only to run from it. The sensible among us know that the running is true, too, and that between these two realities lies a world of pleasure and then, abruptly, pain.” —Rachel Cooke, The Guardian
“Gaitskill never stops at surfaces . . . She believes—maybe reluctantly—in the absolute primacy of human connections, no matter what a mess we tend to make of them.” —Chicago Tribune
This insightful fictional take on a #MeToo scandal offers fresh perspectives and avoids easy answers.
The #MeToo movement is arguably not known for nuance; common narratives often portray victims, villains, and little in between. In her novels, essays, and short stories, however, Gaitskill (Somebody With a Little Hammer, 2017, etc.) frequently explores the shaded contours and subtle seesaws of sexual power dynamics and conjures complex characters that resist our urge to fit them into delineated categories of morality and culpability. In this novella, originally published on the New Yorker's website, Gaitskill introduces two characters swept up—one directly and one indirectly—in a could-have-been-ripped-from-the-headlines #MeToo moment and, in brief, alternating chapters, allows them to tell their own stories. Quin is an elegant, eccentric, well-connected New York book editor who, although married to a beautiful fashionista and the father of a precocious daughter, enjoys engaging with women he meets, at work and elsewhere, intimately and sexually—toying with them, his friend Margot suggests, in a "vaguely sadistic" yet ultimately harmless way. But is it harmless? Are the women emphatically victims and Quin the culprit? And if so, is the punishment Quin is facing—losing his career and social standing—commensurate with his crime? Margot, who rebuffed Quin's sexual advance early in their long friendship, before she acquired her own publishing-world power, believes the young women who have accused Quin of wrongdoing were, at least in some cases, willing participants in and beneficiaries of Quin's sexual game-playing and that he does not deserve to be punished so harshly. Is Margot correct, or is her judgment clouded by friendship? Does she herself deserve disdain as an enabler? Gaitskill provides room for readers to disagree, ultimately raising more questions than answers. "The best story is one that reveals a truth," Quin asserts, "like something you see and understand in a dream but forget as soon as you wake up." The indefinite article is everything there. In this novella, Gaitskill reveals two truths—Quin's and Margot's—and reminds us that the truth can be painfully elusive.
Gaitskill's willingness to ignore common wisdom and consider controversial and complex questions from different viewpoints is a true literary pleasure.