Literary Criticism and Significance

Veronica, Gaitskill’s fourth book of fiction, was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2005, and many consider it her best work. Her other books also feature the themes of beauty and ugliness, tenderness and cruelty, and sex and aggression. More specifically, Veronica is not her first work to feature sadomasochism: the story “Secretary,” which appears in the author’s debut collection of short fiction, was made into a well-received film of the same name.

Gaitskill’s profanity and rawness, as well as the preponderance of gritty, bleak images in her books, make her prose unappealing for some readers. In the San Francisco Chronicle, Jennie Yabroff writes that much like the character Veronica, the novel Veronica is “a little hard to take.” This is true, but one should consider that perhaps the author is trying to do her subject matter justice, for arduous friendships, families’ struggles, chronic falseness, HIV/AIDS, and untimely death are also hard to deal with. On a different note, Yabroff comments that the book is redeemed by Alison’s lack of sentimentality and her final discovery of hope.

Veronica focuses almost as much on Alison’s relationship with a dead time period as it focuses on her relationship with her now deceased friend. The Washington Post critic David Jays called the book “a complicated lament for a decaying ideal of bohemia.” Alison got to experience the almost mythological San Francisco of the 1970s when she was a teenager, but even then the counterculture movement was dying. Readers see strong generational differences when Alison compares her generation’s music to her father’s: Alison’s music had no humility, and artists sang about death, rape, and injustice with little reservation. Then came the glitzy pop songs of the 1980s. A reviewer for Entertainment Weekly commended Gaitskill for capturing the era’s “glamour” and “heartlessness,” but manifestations of heartlessness or love in Veronica actually depend on the character or situation, not the year.

In the end, Alison views the world and her past with unflinching honesty. This world is not a replica of reality but a sometimes beautiful, sometimes plain, sometimes sordid mirror image of the real world. While the reader may flinch, Gaitskill’s courage on the page moved multiple reviewers to call this work of fiction “true.”