Bad Behavior

by Mary Gaitskill

Hardcover, 1988





New York : Poseidon Press, c1988.


This is a reissue of National Book Award finalist Mary Gaitskill's debut collection, Bad Behavior-powerful stories about dislocation, longing, and desire, which depict a disenchanted and rebellious urban-fringe generation as it searches for human connection. Now a classic, Bad Behavior made critical waves when it was first published, heralding Gaitskill's arrival on the literary scene and her establishment as a sharp, erotically charged, and audaciously funny writer of contemporary literature. Stories included here are "Daisy's Valentine," "A Romantic Weekend," "Something Nice," "An Affair, Edited," "Connection," "Trying to Be," "Secretary," "Other Factors," and "Heaven."

User reviews

LibraryThing member Cariola
Last year, I was absolutely blown away by Gaitskill's more recent collection, Don't Cry, so I was eager to read more of her work. Sadly, this early collection just didn't cut it with me. In fact, I stopped reading halfway through. Most of the stories I did read were about sad, unpleasant people in kinky relationships. I'm no prude, and it wasn't the sex that turned me off. I just felt that Gaitskill was trying way too hard to be smart, sophisticated, avant garde, fearless--whatever--and frankly, it bored me. I don't want to read about characters who don't interest me, and none of these did.

Since this was her first collection, and since I loved Don't Cry (which was a much more introspective and human set of stories), I will still be reading more Gaitskill. But I can't recommend this one.
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LibraryThing member amyfaerie
One of America's greatest writers. I love, love, love this collection of stories. A little off-kilter, a little acerbic, and a lot timeless.
LibraryThing member abirdman
Gaitskill is great. She writes short stories about bad relationships better than anyone. These are by turns fun, provocative, sexy, sad, and finally, hopeful.
LibraryThing member Humbert_Humbert
Mary Gaitskill paints some stunning portrayals of human sexuality with this collection of short stories. Although all of them are great the most well known story would be "The Secretary" which was adapted for the film of the same title.
LibraryThing member KromesTomes
If you're looking for a rather dark take on life/relationships, this is the book ... the stories are fantastic.
LibraryThing member JenLynnKnox
I have to say that I am shocked to have enjoyed this collection as much as I did. Because I have read Gaitskill's other works, often twice, I did not expect as much from her older work. This book, however, had a certain raw honesty that grabs a reader by the neck and shakes gently, teasingly, and never squeezes too hard. Broaching the, urm, unpleasantness of prostitution and aimless sexual relationships, Gaitskill drops the small realizations felt by characters who are drowning in the muck, but still gasping for air; still fighting toward land they might no longer see. I love it.… (more)
LibraryThing member suesbooks
Somewhat difficult to understand, but stories about people not usually written about. They have difficult lives, and much of their experiences seemed very honest.
LibraryThing member Dabble58
I'm uncertain about this book. Maybe I am tired of world-weary, depressing New Yorkers. Maybe I really don't like the portrayal of rough, unappreciative, hostile sex. Secretary, in particular, was skin-crawlingly unfriendly. If one of the characters in the book was even in the slightest likeable, it would be an easier go. I lie. There's Stephanie, the lass who does tricks to pass the time while treading through deadly office jobs. I could understand that gal. But everyone else seems so dreary.
I write mysteries where people get killed quite regularly. I'd probably view these characters as appropriate for killing. Unsympathetic, nasty, sexually abusive, self-centred to the point of utter narrowness.
I'm not giving up - I'm going to try Gaitskill's more recent book of short stories, and Veronica, her novel. It's a genre that many many people like, and the writing is powerful enough to keep me reading even when I want to go wash my hands.
Follow-up note: Gaitskill is masterful, but I wouldn't like to be her friend.
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LibraryThing member eenee
I'm not usually a short story reader, but I loved this collection. It's full of interesting relationships and simple, beautiful prose. I'd read this again and I rarely reread.
LibraryThing member astrologerjenny
This collection of short stories is definitely about bad behavior. Mostly it’s kinky sex, but there are occasional drug users. But the stories are not particularly titillating. What happens when ordinary people start incorporating “bad behavior” into their lives? Sometimes nothing much. Sometimes they bump into identity questions.

All the characters are relentlessly observed. The author takes us inside their minds, shows us their delusions and desires, and all their halting attempts to break out and make a connection with another human being. Sometimes this happens, mostly not.

Most of the stories are set in NYC, and as always, the city insinuates itself as a main character.
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LibraryThing member ediedoll
This is an excellent collection of short stories, written early in Gaitskill's career. The tales are haunting and gripping, inhabited by prostitutes, underachievers and other city dwellers. While the scenarios are often rough, there is much tenderness and empathy in Gaitskill's writing, and these brief stories hold a surprising amount of detail, with characters that are mostly well rounded.
The final story, "Heaven," is by far the best in pacing as well as overall quality. Fans of well written short stories in general should appreciate this book, but some of the subject matter may be offensive to sensitive types.
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LibraryThing member nancyjean19
I was a little turned off by the first story -- sometimes books about people on drugs just wear me out -- but I really enjoyed the rest of the collection. Several of the stories covered "bad behavior" between friends, not just lovers, which I found refreshing. It's an emotionally rich territory that I don't often see explored in fiction. I also really liked a line that was something like "All of his friends were going to Europe and he was tired of it." I could definitely relate to that thought!… (more)
LibraryThing member RussellBittner
I came away from my reading of the first two stories (“Daisy’s Valentine” and “A Romantic Weekend”) in this collection thinking that Mary Gaitskill has an uncanny talent: namely, that she can juxtapose nouns with adjectives, and verbs with adverbs in a way others of us simply can’t — and can then make them work to wonderful effect. On p. 33 — just to give one example — we have this exchange in “A Romantic Weekend”:

“‘I’m sorry I’m not more talkative,’ she said.

‘That’s all right.’ His narrow eyes became feral once again. ‘Women should be quiet.’ It suddenly struck her that it would seem completely natural if he lunged forward and bit her face.

‘I agree,’ she said sharply. ‘There aren’t many men around worth talking to.’

He was nonplussed by her peevish tone. Perhaps, he thought, he’d imagined it.

He hadn’t.”

The word that startles here is, of course, “bit” — a simple verb unadorned by any adverb. But the situation that makes it startling is one Ms. Gaitskill very artfully sets up and deploys with what both precedes and follows the exchange.

If she could keep this up for the length of a novel — I further thought—her prose could put Fifty Shades of Grey to shame in a heartbeat (since the contents of both have a little something in common). I don’t know. I haven’t yet read any of her novels.

The third story in this collection, “Something Nice” — a vignette about a novice prostitute and her middle-aged suitor — left me feeling a bit underwhelmed. That, or I just didn’t get it.

Knowing what we do about Ms. Gaitskill’s curriculum vitae, we can assume that many of the elements in her fourth story — “An Affair, Edited” — are autobiographical. Just the same, it’s a subtle and well-executed psychological profile of a young Manhattan executive and his coterie of friends, colleagues and “amuse-gueules.”

The fifth story, “Connection,” is about anything but. Rather, it’s about the gradual falling out of two former college friends through the bumps, bruises, grinds and all matter of entropy that an older, urban relationship is heir to when that relationship involves two neurotics/borderline psychotics — in other words, two New Yorkers. This story is a superb example of sit-down (rather than drive-by) rage, and the dialogue is the typical stuff of Broadway.

The next piece, “Trying to Be,” is not so much a coming-of-age story as a “coming-to-be” story full of urban angst and anomie. Let’s listen in on a snippet of dialogue between Stephanie (an on-again, off-again prostitute) and Bernard (her currently favorite john) a few days after she’s disposed of “a huge, morose fellow with a gold Pisces chain on his fleshy chest” who coos and woos her with the following:

“‘I bet I know what you was like then,’ he said, rolling over. ‘You was one of them quiet types that never went out. And look at you now.’ There was no malice in his voice; it was a wonderless comment, which made its accuracy all the depressing. (N.B. Can you get any better than “wonderless”??!!) Then there was the concave-chested little person who so offended her with the pre-session suggestion that she ‘suck his tits’ that she involuntarily threw up her hands and said, ‘No. No. Just no,’ and walked out of the room and down the stairs, not caring whether or not Christine (N. B. the madam) fired her, which she didn’t. ‘I’ll send one of the other girls up,’ she said to Stephanie as they huddled in the kitchen. ‘You’ve worked hard today and I can afford to lose that geek if he walks.’

On the fourth day, when Bernard finally appeared, she fell into his arms. ‘I’m so glad to see you,’ she said, feeling his rather automatic placating response. She told him how terrible the last few days had been.

‘This guy was there for half an hour droning about his stupid high school days, and how important he was, and how all the cute girls would go out with him. It was just dreadful.’ She noted Bernard’s puzzled expression and laughed. ‘I guess it doesn’t sound so bad, but it really was. For a while I was in his life, and his life was lousy.’”

And on the very next page (p. 120), while club-hopping with her friend Babette, Stephanie (I suspect as mouthpiece for Ms. Gaitskill) gives us this summation about one of Manhattan’s oh-so-glorious dance palaces: “Then she would remember what she was like before she came to New York and realize that this was what she had pictured: herself in a glamorous club full of laughing or morosely posing people. In frustration, she would decide that the reason it all seemed so dull was that she was seeing only the outermost layer of a complex society that spoke in ingenious and impenetrable signs to outsiders who, even if they were able to physically enter the club, were unable to enter the conversations that so amused everyone else. This was a discouraging idea, but it was better than thinking that the entire place was a nonsensical bore that people actually longed to belong in.”

Rather damning stuff, that. But oh so accurate!

Oops. Before we leave “Trying to Be” to rest in peace, I feel compelled to note two errata that unhappily slipped by the copy editors of this 2009 Simon & Schuster Paperbacks edition of a work first published in 1988. On p. 115, we have “(h)e loved the idea of kooky, arty girls who lives (sic) ‘bohemian’ lives and broke all the rules.” And on p. 120, “Babette…her slim hip tilted one way, he (sic) head the other.” Where have all the editors gone, Peter, Paul & Mary? Gone to hayseeds, every one.

Although her next story, “Secretary,” actually made it up into Hollywood klieg lights, I just watched the trailer and consequently now suspect—based on the few scenes and snippets of dialogue I saw—that it was sadly and moronically Fifty-shadelerized. Well, as they say: any PR—no matter how bad—is good PR.

“Other Factors” is more angst and anomie — and talk, talk, talk. All very NYC. And the creeping gentrification of certain parts of Brooklyn suggests that before too much longer, there won’t be much more than a bridge separating these two burgs.

The final story, “Heaven,” is, I think, a family saga of sorts. But I just couldn’t connect the dots well enough to figure out the point of it. Oh, and one more oops! on p. 201: “(w)hen the (sic) talked to anyone else, their faces stiffened slightly.”

Does this introductory reading of Mary Gaitskill encourage me to read more of her stuff? Absolutely! — if for no other reason than to see how it stacks up against the stuff of Joyce Carol Oates, Lorrie Moore and Ella Leffland—not to mention of Carson McCullers and Flannery O’Connor.

Brooklyn, NY

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LibraryThing member krizia_lazaro
Just read "Secretary". It was a good book that focuses on employer-employee, man-woman power dynamics. I would have loved to see the outcome and justice being served.
LibraryThing member Dreesie
I found this collection on Hoopla by using the "similar artists" feature--though honestly I don't know how I got to Gaitskill. I was unfamiliar with her work until now.

I enjoyed this collection. These stories all feature women living in the greater NY area. Most are probably in their 20s, but Virginia, the family matriarch of the last story, is a grandmother by the end. All of these women are dealing with relationships--with boyfriends and girlfriends, friends, husbands and children, bosses. They are all struggling in some way--with abusive bosses or weird exes. Friendships that did not work out. Some are young women frustrated with still living at home, others have a child back at home. The behavior of all of these women might be seen as traditionally "bad"--but they all know something is/was wrong and try to work it out.

Gaitskill narrated the audiobook and I thought she did a wonderful job. I liked her voice, and she has a touch of a lisp that I really liked, it made the stories more real. She also read the stories as she wanted them interpreted, pacing-wise, and I am not sure I would have read them that way myself. I'm not sure I would have liked them as much just reading them as a book--she definitely added to my enjoyment. Which is not something I usually say about audiobooks.
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LibraryThing member eenerd
Interesting but kind of annoying uber-intellectual desperately gritty 80s NYC. I'm glad I read it but it wasn't my fave.
LibraryThing member mooingzelda
Bad Behavior comprises nine stories that delve deep into the inner lives of characters who mostly seem to be from the same sorts of backgrounds - comfortable and artistic in some way - and are either currently in a relationship or are ruminating about previous relationships and friendships, mainly against the backdrop of 1980s New York.

While most of the stories do indeed involve some sort of bad behaviour, it seemed to me that the stories are largely about the thoughts and actions that lead to and are generated by it. I really liked this approach. Although I found many of the protagonists hard to like, I felt that I could understand them to varying extents. Gaitskill's writing is wonderful - precise and unshowy. It's exactly the right style for most of the stories she has chosen.

The only story that puzzled me was the final one, Heaven. It's very different to the other stories and revolves around a mother and the activities of her children and niece. It's nicely written, but I couldn't quite see what connected it to the likes of 'Secretary' and 'A Romantic Weekend'. Perhaps nothing!

I enjoyed this collection very much and would definitely read more by Gaitskill.
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