What I Learned from Reading: Veronica

By: Aryanne Ferguson

Last week I finished reading Veronica by Mary Gaitskill. She’s published 5 books so far—3 short story collections and 2 novels. Veronica is one of her novels, set in the 1980s, when AIDS was a death sentence and gay rights were definitely not law. Veronica is the first person point of view story of a girl who falls into the (incredibly seedy if this book is believed) world of modeling.

For the NY Times book review, click here. The subject of Veronica is so gritty I can’t lie and say I always enjoyed reading the novel. I cringed a lot. But I kept reading because the writing is excellent, and here’s what I learned:

First Lesson: Time is fluid, and when writing, I shouldn’t be afraid to experiment. I have a habit of sticking to the chronological method of telling a story, but it may be time to break out and try something new.

Second Lesson: Rooting a story in historical fact helps readers relate to the world you’ve created. No, I didn’t live through the 1980s and I cringe at the music videos, but the impressions of the 1980s that I had before reading the book grounded me in Gaitskill’s world. Instead of having to explain the story’s world to me, like a fantasy or sci-fi writer has to, she built upon what I already knew and gave me further insight. I’m sure she researched to get her facts straight.

Third Lesson: Consider killing off your characters in cruel ways, for example a long illness. I get so attached to mine that I’m reluctant to do this. I don’t enjoy writing about suffering, but wow – the suffering in this novel kept me alert and attentive to the story.

Have you read any works by Mary Gaitskill? What did you learn from her?

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