In Don’t Cry, Mary Gaitskill presents ten short stories that are sometimes literally connected and sometimes thematically related. Some of these stories are firmly entrenched within the real world, and some, while taking place within the real world, dabble with the metaphorical and metaphysical plane as well. Each of them investigates complex human emotions and Gaitskill proves she is not afraid to tackle any issue.
Gaitskill is a very skilled writer; I have no doubt of that. Her stories were finely written and she delighted me with her rapid shifts in time and perspective (sometimes within the same paragraph). However, by and large, I simply could not invest in her tales on a personal level. I can’t believe I am writing this because it sounds so horribly obtuse, but her work in this collection is distinctly female, so much so that I felt alienated by much of it. By no means am I calling her a feminist (though if she is, that’s not a bad thing), but generally speaking her stories seemed aimed at women in particular (again, this is not a bad thing).
Now allow me to contradict myself. Two of her works that absolutely held my full attention and thrilled me were “The Arms and Legs of the Lake” and “Don’t Cry.”
“The Arms and Legs of the Lake” takes place within a train where the point of view shifts from several different people as they interact with one another. It’s a very interesting technique and, as a veteran from Iraq is the focal point, I also found it particularly significant.
“Don’t Cry” is far more traditional in its execution, but as a new father, this tale depicting a woman trying to adapt a child in Ethiopia during political unrest had me on the edge of my seat and I truly could not put it down until I’d finished it. Even now, it still haunts me.
So while Gaitskill is a talented and skilled writer unafraid to take risks and investigate sophisticated themes, most of her subject matter simply failed to resonant with me. However, even with that being said, the two aforementioned stories were fantastic and made the time spent reading Don’t Cry worthwhile.