One of Veronica’s main themes involves the tension between the surface self and the real self. When Alison was modeling, she was too concerned with superficial appearances. After Alain betrayed her and she returned to the United States, she longed for the lavish, bright “heaven” of the European elite and found her life in New Jersey too gray. At such a young age, she was aware of the corruption of that world, but she romanticized it. In her forties, Alison realizes that “there is always a style suit, or suits.” She notices that some wanderers like her were just going from one personality to the next, as if they were just “looking for a container to hold everything in place.” While Alison and so many people around her were like liquid, similar to the music she used to love, Veronica was like a rock. Her words were hard, her garish appearance was hard, but she was committed to honesty. For example, once when Alison and Veronica were viewing a controversial Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit, an offended woman remarked that she “didn’t need to see that.” In response, Veronica snapped, “Then why did you come?” Her candor embarrassed Alison at times, but it also provided relief from their duplicitous surroundings. Even Alison’s father displayed duplicity. When Alison was ten, her mother tripped, fell, and was so badly hurt that she moaned. Alison turned and saw her father smiling, but he soon put on a concerned face and approached his wife. That smile disturbed Alison for years, but she later created her own falseness by loving a superficial world too much.

Due in no small part to Veronica’s friendship, Alison came to reject falseness. When Alison took a plane from Los Angeles to New York to visit Veronica, she sat next to a woman whose son was dying. The woman, Suzanne, did not hide her grief, and she was so shaken by it that she kept dropping things into the aisle by accident. An annoyed flight attendant rolled his eyes behind Suzanne’s back, and Alison gave him such a dirty look that he turned pale.

Throughout the novel, Gaitskill also develops three interrelated themes: beauty and ugliness, love and cruelty, and sex and death. Gaitskill shows readers that the two parts of each are really one unit. As Alison washes John’s windows, readers see this coexistence of beauty and ugliness,...

(The entire section is 960 words.)