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Veronica
by Mary Gaitskill

Published: 2006-07-18
Paperback : 257 pages
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Alison and Veronica meet amid the nocturnal glamour of 1980s New York: One is a young model stumbling away from the wreck of her career, the other an eccentric middle-aged office temp. Over the next twenty years their friendship will encompass narcissism and tenderness, exploitation and ...
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Introduction

(Alison and Veronica meet amid the nocturnal glamour of 1980s New York: One is a young model stumbling away from the wreck of her career, the other an eccentric middle-aged office temp. Over the next twenty years their friendship will encompass narcissism and tenderness, exploitation and self-sacrifice, love and mortality. Moving seamlessly from present and past, casting a fierce yet compassionate eye on two eras and their fixations, the result is a work of timeless depth and moral power.

Editorial Review

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Excerpt

EXCERPT
When I was young, my mother read me a story about a wicked little girl. She read it to me and my two sisters. We sat curled against her on the couch and she read from the book on her lap. The lamp shone on us and there was a blanket over us. The girl in the story was beautiful and cruel. Because her mother was poor, she sent her daughter to work for rich people, who spoiled and petted her. The rich people told her she had to visit her mother. But the girl felt she was too good and went merely to show herself. One day, the rich people sent her home with a loaf of bread for her mother. But when the little girl came to a muddy bog, rather than ruin her shoes, she threw down the bread and stepped on it. It sank into the bog and she sank with it. She sank into a world of demons and deformed creatures. Because she was beautiful, the demon queen made her into a statue as a gift for her great-grandson. The girl was covered in snakes and slime and surrounded by the hate of every creature trapped like she was. She was starving but couldn't eat the bread still welded to her feet. She could hear what people were saying about her; a boy passing by saw what had happened to her and told everyone, and they all said she deserved it. Even her mother said she deserved it. The girl couldn't move, but if she could have, she would've twisted with rage. "It isn't fair!" cried my mother, and her voice mocked the wicked girl. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the Author:

1. What is the significance of the story Alison’s mother told her about the wicked little girl when she was a child? In what ways does it function as a kind of parable, or prediction, of Alison’s life?

2. Alison’s narrative shifts between past and present, or rather between several layers of the past and the present. What effects does Mary Gaitskill create through this method of narration? In what ways does it mirror the way the mind and memory actually work?

3. What kind of relationship does Alison have with her parents and with her sisters? How do they view her modeling career?

4. Gaitskill often personifies music in Veronica: “music, lightly skipping in the main rooms, here bumbled from wall to wall like a ghost groaning in purgatory” [p. 133]; “Music fell out of windows, splattered on the ground, got up, and walked away” [p. 141]. Why does Gaitskill emphasize music throughout the novel? Why is music so important to Alison?

5. Alison dreams of being a poet. In what ways is her narrative—in terms of its language and emotional intensity—suffused with poetry?

6. Veronica tells Alison: “prettiness is always about pleasing people. When you stop being pretty, you don’t have to do that anymore. I don’t have to do that anymore. It’s my show now” [p. 44]. How does Alison’s beauty enslave her? In what ways is Veronica more free because she lacks such beauty?

7. How does Alison’s experience as a model affect her—morally, emotionally, financially?

8. What does Alison mean when she says that she became a demon and “was saved by another demon, who looked on me with pity and so became human again. And because I pitied her in return, I was allowed to become human, too” [p. 256]? Why would such a mutual pity enable Alison and Veronica to regain their humanity? What is the source of this pity?

9. What does the novel suggest about the harsher reality beneath the surface glamour of the fashion industry? How do people treat each other in this world?

10. How does Alison fall from modeling in Paris to cleaning the photographer’s office in San Rafael? Is one job more demeaning than the other?

11. Why is Veronica so important to Alison? How and why does Alison’s relationship to Veronica change over the course of the novel?

12. What does the novel reveal about the early days of AIDS? How do people react to Veronica when they learn she has AIDS?

13. Veronica is an exceptionally painful novel, filled with sickness, cruelty, suffering, and death, and yet it ends with Alison saying, “I will call my father and tell him I finally heard him. I will be full of gratitude and joy” [p. 257]. What has she finally heard? What is she grateful for? Why does she anticipate such joy?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "Not an easy book to read. Found the main character cold and not likeable."by djconti (see profile) 04/20/07

 
  "I was the only one out of 8 that like the book!"by clota60621 (see profile) 04/20/07

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