Mary Gaitskill, an author known for her frank depictions of sex, violence, desire and dominance is working on a response to the #MeToo movement — in fiction.
"It's related to #MeToo," she said from the stage at the Hammer Museum in Westwood on Tuesday night, interviewed by Mona Simpson as part of her "Some Favorite Writers" series. After having been approached to write an essay on the subject, Gaitskill realized that isn't the tack she feels compelled to take.
"I can't come up with a straight opinion about [the #MeToo movement]. I would prefer to write a story about it," Gaitskill said, explaining she plans to "come from various points of view at the same time."
She's also working on a short story currently titled "The Acceptance Journey," an in-progress excerpt of which she shared with the audience.
"I've never even read it out loud before," she admitted, although no one would have guessed. "I wasn't sure it was ready."
Simpson dismissed her fears. "It was ready," she said.
The excerpt, which followed a 57-year-old divorcee's resettlement in a small town and the letter exchange she begins with her neighbor's daughter, sounded like polished, perfect Gaitskill: controlled, crystalline, precise and chilling. "Torture porn," couple's therapy, menopause and the everyday horrors of the nightly news gave way to passages of correspondence with the young girl next door — letters her protagonist writes from the perspective not of Santa Claus, but the Grinch.
In a gauzy gray outfit, Gaitskill looked elegant, commanding the stage. To the audience's delight, she read in a theatrical Grinch-voice.
Gaitskill said that she noticed a couple of things to tweak while reading aloud (a few sentences on love and violence were not, she felt, specific enough) but that she'd been excited to share new work.
"I've read too much from old things," she said, and admitted that "I've felt alien from a lot of my work recently. I'm not sure what that means…I've never felt it before."
An audience member asked how Gaitskill approached writing such a nuanced angle of female sexuality, particularly surrounding menopause.
"I just approached it, basically," she replied. Her method may sound cold, she added, but put simply, "I try to be as accurate as possible." Hormonal shifts are "kind of a gross topic for a lot of people," she said.
"All the better," replied Simpson.
Another audience member asked (a little sheepishly) what Gaitskill had thought of the 2002 film "Secretary," starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader, based on her short story "Bad Behavior," which concerns a BDSM relationship in the workplace.
"I did not like the movie. I never liked it," Gaitskill said without hesitation. "I remember criticizing the movie in my veterinarian's office." Considering the recent dialogue around #MeToo, she said, "I don't think [the film] would get that reception if it came out now. … They treated it much too lightly."