Mary Gaitskill, George Saunders, William Maxwell and the lasting influence of Anton Chekhov's "Gooseberries"
Mary Gaitskill's first book,Bad Behavior (1988), has become a classic of a particular kind. It is a collection of short stories many of which have strong sexual themes including bondage and sadomasochism. They are blunt, sometimes funny, and fierce. Like James Salter's A Sport and a Pastime, Bad Behavior set a high and provocative bar for Gaitskill which she has happily met with several other collections of stories and three novels. While accomplishing all of that Gaitskill has also written many essays and reviews. Perhaps the most famous of these is "The Trouble With Following the Rules", which appeared in Harper's Magazine in 1994.
Collectively, Richard Ford and Richard Russo have been writing for 70 years. Ford published his first novel, A Piece of My Heart, in 1976, and Russo his first, Mohawk in 1986. Between them they are known as master observers of ordinary lives who tell unadorned stories. They each have new books this month, and characteristically each is blunt, tender and wise. I know (believe me, I will be 69 in June) that aging white guys are out of favor in the literary world, and I don't begrudge that sentiment or the years of feeling overlooked that created it, but these two coots can still bring it, and they deserve our attention.
There are new books this Spring focusing on three of Shakespeare's greatest creations: Sir John Falstaff, here principally observed through the lens of Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2; Hamlet, in this case both the character and the play, and Rosalind, the heroine of As You Like It. All three books are hugely entertaining and deeply knowledgeable. Collectively they serve as a great whistle wetter for the coming APT season. (There, you see what happens when writing about Shakespeare? A delirious giddiness takes over and it seems perfectly apt to say "whistle wetters")
Mohsin Hamid's fourth novel, Exit West, is superbly written and filled with surprises. The biggest is Hamid's tone of insistent optimism. The novel concerns mass migration from places in the South or East blasted by unstable and volatile politics or environmental decay to places of seeming stability in the West.