Somebody with a Little Hammer
From one of the most singular presences in American fiction comes a searingly intelligent book of essays on matters literary, social, cultural, and personal. Whether she's writing about date rape or political adultery or writers from John Updike to Gillian Flynn, Mary Gaitskill reads her subjects deftly and aphoristically and moves beyond them to locate the deep currents of longing, ambition, perversity, and loneliness in the American unconscious. She shows us the transcendentalism of the Talking Heads, the melancholy of Bjork, the playfulness of artist Laurel Nakadate. She celebrates the clownish grandiosity and the poetry of Norman Mailer's long career and maps the sociosexual cataclysm embodied by porn star Linda Lovelace. And in the deceptively titled "Lost Cat," she explores how the most intimate relationships may be warped by power and race.Witty, tender, beautiful, and unsettling, Somebody with a Little Hammer displays the same heat-seeking, revelatory understanding for which we value Gaitskill's fiction.

Somebody with a Little Hammer Details

TitleSomebody with a Little Hammer
Author
ReleaseApr 4th, 2017
PublisherPantheon Books
ISBN-139780307378224
Rating
GenreWriting, Essays, Nonfiction, Feminism, Autobiography, Memoir, Short Stories, Language

Somebody with a Little Hammer Review

  • Holly
    January 1, 1970
    My god to write and think like Mary Gaitskill. There is a piece in this collection that was written as far back as 1997 about date rape and I thought - do I need to read this? should I skim it since that is so long ago and Jon Krakauer and Laura Kipnis and all the new takes on sexism on college campuses - but I read it and was enthralled by her trenchant criticism and insight and amazingly interesting sensibiility that left me thinking about consent and how girls are socialized and what it means My god to write and think like Mary Gaitskill. There is a piece in this collection that was written as far back as 1997 about date rape and I thought - do I need to read this? should I skim it since that is so long ago and Jon Krakauer and Laura Kipnis and all the new takes on sexism on college campuses - but I read it and was enthralled by her trenchant criticism and insight and amazingly interesting sensibiility that left me thinking about consent and how girls are socialized and what it means to be an adult who takes responsibility, and my own life and the culture, too. Every single piece in this collection is like that: each made me think and disturbed or delighted me in different ways. A lot of Gaitskill's literary and music criticism is included here, also a long personal essay first published in Granta about losing her cat - but it's about so many other things at the same time. All her writing seems articulate and opinionated while feeling just somehow different from how other writers do it, I think because of how she writes so personally and how she makes extremely complicated observations without apology. And she's funny, too.
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  • Kris
    January 1, 1970
    3.5 stars -- rounded up on the strength of "Lost Cat: A Memoir."
  • El
    January 1, 1970
    To clear up one important detail, this is not just a collection of essays. There are reviews here, pre-published reviews on books, music, and movies. If you want personal essays, you will get that, but you will also get several reviews on things you might not care about. Some of us do; but you might not. So be aware of that before you open these pages and tread carefully. Skip the ones you don't want to read. Or just read "Lost Cat: A Memoir" which is the longest piece in the book and skillfully To clear up one important detail, this is not just a collection of essays. There are reviews here, pre-published reviews on books, music, and movies. If you want personal essays, you will get that, but you will also get several reviews on things you might not care about. Some of us do; but you might not. So be aware of that before you open these pages and tread carefully. Skip the ones you don't want to read. Or just read "Lost Cat: A Memoir" which is the longest piece in the book and skillfully braids the loss of her beloved cat, the death of her father, and a relationship she and her husband had with a set of non-biological children.All in all, these are interesting essays/reviews. I may not have agreed with every one of her thoughts, but there's no essayist (yet) that I agree with 100%. Gaitskill is a curious woman, whether discussing her multiple rapes as a young woman and how she dealt with the realization later, or her strong opinions on Vladimir Nabokov or Linda Lovelace, she articulates every one of her thoughts and beliefs in a way that makes it difficult to turn away.One night when he was lying on his back in my lap, purring, I saw something flash across the floor; it was a small sky blue marble rolling out from under the dresser and across the floor. It stopped in the middle of the floor. It was beautiful, bright, and something not visible to me had set it in motion. It seemed a magical and forgiving omen, like the presence of this loving little cat. I put it on the windowsill, next to my father's marble.(p137, "Lost Cat: A Memoir")I have not had the opportunity to read anything else by Mary Gaitskill which seems like a shame. But I did see the movie Secretary, based on Gaitskill's short story, Bad Behavior - and, yes, she writes about her opinions of the movie adaptation starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader.Because her essays/reviews range from 1994-2016, the majority of writing here was written prior to 2010 and therefore feel sometimes dated. I'm not sure if Gaitskill's opinions might have changed or only become stronger over time. I know my own opinions have changed since 1994 or even 2010. It would be interesting to read more contemporary essays but in this collection, the most recent writing takes up only about a quarter of the book.I'm still not sure if I want to read any of her fiction, to be honest. I know she is somewhat known for being dark (and she admits it in one of her essays), but I didn't care much for Secretary, so that gives me pause. (The performances were great; but the subject matter itself isn't appealing to me.)It was interesting reading this on the heels of Meghan Daum's The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion. Daum's essays are a smidge more readable but maybe because the voice is younger, fresher. Gaitskill is a powerhouse in the literary world, and a prolific writer. Her writing goes into her experiences with more depth and - for lack of a better word - grace than Daum, but give Daum time and she could easily be a Gaitskill if she so chooses.
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  • Sarah
    January 1, 1970
    I had no idea Ms. Gaitskill was such a prolific essayist. I think I have read all her published novels and short stories, and consider myself a fan. This was like finding a treasure chest long-buried in the attic.Like her or not, Ms. Gaitskill has a strong and familiar voice. I admire her frank discussion of all manner of subjects: books, music, movies, art, sex, love, treatment of others. I used to think her "shocking", because she says and writes things I don't often see, but I realize she is I had no idea Ms. Gaitskill was such a prolific essayist. I think I have read all her published novels and short stories, and consider myself a fan. This was like finding a treasure chest long-buried in the attic.Like her or not, Ms. Gaitskill has a strong and familiar voice. I admire her frank discussion of all manner of subjects: books, music, movies, art, sex, love, treatment of others. I used to think her "shocking", because she says and writes things I don't often see, but I realize she is truthful. I don't think her words are intended to provoke, or shock, just to make the reader consider something or someone in a different light. It's refreshing, and interesting. My favorite essay in this collection was clearly the beginning of or inspiration for her novel 'The Mare'. Although I knew the novel was based in truth, reading said truth took my breath away.If you are interested in contemporary criticism or good essays, or just crave something new, fresh, and different-- I encourage you to read this book.
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  • lindy
    January 1, 1970
    Among many, many other wonderful things (an amazing meditation on Linda Lovelace; a 50-page essay about a lost cat that rattled me so deeply I had to walk it off after finishing it), this collection contains the best and most withering take-down of Gone Girl I've ever read. Hail Mary, full of grace.
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  • Ryan
    January 1, 1970
    The core of this book is the long (17,000 word) thoroughly engrossing essay (originally published in Granta) called "Lost Cat," which is one of the best things Gaitskill has ever written. Unfortunately, nearly everything else in this collection is so minor in comparison to this masterly piece of narrative non-fiction, it tends to come across as filler.Mostly previously published capsule reviews (of books and films), liner notes, introductions, etc. - there are not that many essays in fact, and n The core of this book is the long (17,000 word) thoroughly engrossing essay (originally published in Granta) called "Lost Cat," which is one of the best things Gaitskill has ever written. Unfortunately, nearly everything else in this collection is so minor in comparison to this masterly piece of narrative non-fiction, it tends to come across as filler.Mostly previously published capsule reviews (of books and films), liner notes, introductions, etc. - there are not that many essays in fact, and nothing newly written for this collection.I enjoyed the two pieces on Nabokov (though her 1995 essay on him in Salon, the first piece I ever read from her, is not included) and the introduction to Bleak House, but her engagement with contemporary writers is less interesting somehow. There are a few pieces that touch on politics, feminism, art, media, consent, and rape - these are mostly of interest to see how the threads of her thoughts and sentiments changed (or didn't) over the 20 year period in which she wrote them...you can also see a transition in her writing from pre to post social media ubiquity.
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  • Jane
    January 1, 1970
    What an amazing book. I've found this author's fiction way too dark, but decided to read this collection based on a review. Oh, I'm so glad. There's a memoir in the center of the book called "Lost Cat." It is a layered memoir about the author's involvement with two children from New York City, with her cat, found on the streets of Rome, and brought home with her the U.S. It was so beautiful, not only about loss, but about connections of all kinds...how painful they can be, and how rewarding. Thi What an amazing book. I've found this author's fiction way too dark, but decided to read this collection based on a review. Oh, I'm so glad. There's a memoir in the center of the book called "Lost Cat." It is a layered memoir about the author's involvement with two children from New York City, with her cat, found on the streets of Rome, and brought home with her the U.S. It was so beautiful, not only about loss, but about connections of all kinds...how painful they can be, and how rewarding. This doesn't explain at all how surprised and delighted and sad I felt as several stories were woven together so that I felt I were inside an emotional prism. The story about rape and the ways in which the author withholds, then reveals made me realize that there are few writers who can write so honestly about sex, desire, victims, and abuse. The essay on Bleak House (several of these pieces are book or music reviews) convinced me that I wanted to read this novel by Dickens. I never have. I've never been a big fan of non-fiction, but this year I've begun to read more. This is probably the best one so far.
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  • Julene
    January 1, 1970
    The title, "Somebody with a Little Hammer" is from a Chekhov speech in the story "Gooseberries" she reveals in an essay with the same name. The quote is: "At the door of every centered, happy man somebody should stand with a little hammer, constantly tapping, to remind him that unhappy people exist, that however happy he may be, sooner or later life will show him its claws, some calamity will befall him—illness, poverty, loss—and nowbody will hear or see, just as he doesn't hear or see others no The title, "Somebody with a Little Hammer" is from a Chekhov speech in the story "Gooseberries" she reveals in an essay with the same name. The quote is: "At the door of every centered, happy man somebody should stand with a little hammer, constantly tapping, to remind him that unhappy people exist, that however happy he may be, sooner or later life will show him its claws, some calamity will befall him—illness, poverty, loss—and nowbody will hear or see, just as he doesn't hear or see others now. But there is nobody with a little hammer, the happy man lives on, and the petty cares of life stir him only slightly, as wind stirs an aspen—and everything is fine."I started reading this book in the middle with the piece, "Lost Cat, A Memoir." I didn't intend to read the whole book because she writes about books I may never read, but once I started, I read the whole book because her writing is so good. My favorites were the memoir, Icon, On Linda Lovelace, and Leave the Women Alone! On the Never Ending Political Extramarital Scandals. I love her clarity about sex and have loved her work since her first book of short stories came out, "Bad Behavior." She writes with passion, whether about her own life and her missing cat rescued from starvation in Italy, or about the star of "Deep Throat." She holds compassion and intellect to make commentary that does not follow the pack.
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  • David
    January 1, 1970
    I started out loving this collection of essays, then became somewhat disenchanted and read a different book about halfway-through when several of the essays struck me as just thrown into the collection to pad the length of the book. After finishing the book in between, I returned, determined to grit my teeth and finish the book, and the last half turned out to be amazing, and Lost Cat: A Memoir would have been worth the price of admission on its own. A beautiful, sharp, and analytical mind takin I started out loving this collection of essays, then became somewhat disenchanted and read a different book about halfway-through when several of the essays struck me as just thrown into the collection to pad the length of the book. After finishing the book in between, I returned, determined to grit my teeth and finish the book, and the last half turned out to be amazing, and Lost Cat: A Memoir would have been worth the price of admission on its own. A beautiful, sharp, and analytical mind taking on some very difficult to talk about topics.
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  • Heather
    January 1, 1970
    I love Mary, her mind is incredibly brilliant. I'm so thankful I got to meet her at Bookpeople a couple of years ago. This book of her essays written from the mid-1990s to present time from various publications is both a time capsule of the eras written in and yet freshly relevant to our very different, more "advanced" times of today. Read her thoughts on what I call "the Elizabeth's": one essay on Elizabeth Edwards, whose politician husband cheated on her in the twilight years of her life, then I love Mary, her mind is incredibly brilliant. I'm so thankful I got to meet her at Bookpeople a couple of years ago. This book of her essays written from the mid-1990s to present time from various publications is both a time capsule of the eras written in and yet freshly relevant to our very different, more "advanced" times of today. Read her thoughts on what I call "the Elizabeth's": one essay on Elizabeth Edwards, whose politician husband cheated on her in the twilight years of her life, then compare Mary's thoughts in a different essay on a different Elizabeth, Elizabeth Wurtzel who in the late 90s wrote her own essay in the form of a non fiction book called Bitch.My favorite essay is her long form piece from Granta, it's called Lost Cat. This is such a powerful piece that I read it twice, and have half a mind to go make a copy of it to continue re-reading over and over at a later date. That good. The other power piece for me was her 1994 Harper's essay titled The Trouble With Following the Rules. If anything read these 2 essays. Mary Gaitskill and Rebecca Solnit are my 2 favorite living essayists.
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  • Gloria
    January 1, 1970
    I dunno, this just wasn't my kind of book. It wasn't particularly interesting or insightful. There was maybe one essay I liked, about an 80s song I'd never heard. There were a lot of reviews of books I wasn't familiar with. But even essays about her personal life were kind of obnoxious. I liked the one about her lost cat, but interspersing the experience she had with kids who came to stay with her was kind of cringey and just made her come off as a ridiculous rich white woman. I don't know, ther I dunno, this just wasn't my kind of book. It wasn't particularly interesting or insightful. There was maybe one essay I liked, about an 80s song I'd never heard. There were a lot of reviews of books I wasn't familiar with. But even essays about her personal life were kind of obnoxious. I liked the one about her lost cat, but interspersing the experience she had with kids who came to stay with her was kind of cringey and just made her come off as a ridiculous rich white woman. I don't know, there were too many reviews, I thought it would be more essays, but even the essays just rubbed me the wrong way.
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  • Laura
    January 1, 1970
    As with nearly any essay collection, some of the essays in this are better than others. But when it’s bad, it’s just kind of meh, and when it’s good, it’s very good. I especially liked “The Trouble with Following the Rules: On ‘Date Rape,’ ‘Victim Culture,’ and Personal Responsibility” and “Icon: On Linda Lovelace.” Gaitskill also managed to do the impossible with “And It Would Not Be Wonderful to Meet a Megalosaurus” - she made me want to read Bleak House.
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  • Juliet
    January 1, 1970
    I'm a huge fan of her fiction so was intrigued by her essays.1) She's an amazing writer, critical thinker. You don't have to agree with her, but she's great at arguing for empathy.2) Her book reviews make me want to be a writer. At the very least, read Chekhov's "Gooseberries". 3) Her essays are full of good vocabulary words (I'm studying for GRE so I will take it).
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  • Joel
    January 1, 1970
    The main question I have after coming out of this thing is what interest could there possibly be in a review of a foot fetish photo collection twenty years after the article (and photo collection) was originally published?
  • Marianne
    January 1, 1970
    So, first thing, I took off a whole star because for some reason Gaitskill really likes using the r-word. Bleh. Both to describe people with intellectual disabilities and also to insult people more or less randomly. I'm not sure if it's something where she uses all kinds of slurs for Writerly Reasons (eyeroll) and the editors take out the rest, but not that one, or if she just has a thing for the word, but whatever, it really bothered me. Mostly because I want to read the pieces, not have an arg So, first thing, I took off a whole star because for some reason Gaitskill really likes using the r-word. Bleh. Both to describe people with intellectual disabilities and also to insult people more or less randomly. I'm not sure if it's something where she uses all kinds of slurs for Writerly Reasons (eyeroll) and the editors take out the rest, but not that one, or if she just has a thing for the word, but whatever, it really bothered me. Mostly because I want to read the pieces, not have an argument with her in my head about her use of the word. 6-10 times in one book is 6-10 times too many.That said, I had a lovely experience arguing with the author in my head about many other things, and her writing is as fluid and insightful and challenging as ever except for that one thing. Which is, you know, a big thing. And personally quite vexing.
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  • CaitlynK
    January 1, 1970
    "If someone had told me when I was ten that I would grow up to be a writer, that I would be invited to read in Russia, and that a Beatle would be playing just a few blocks away, it would have made life worth living. Now that it had all happened, I was simply put out by the lack of toilet seats and paper, the giardia in the water supply, and the animals starving in the streets because people put their pets out when they couldn't afford to feed them anymore."Occasionally, Gaitskill uses language I "If someone had told me when I was ten that I would grow up to be a writer, that I would be invited to read in Russia, and that a Beatle would be playing just a few blocks away, it would have made life worth living. Now that it had all happened, I was simply put out by the lack of toilet seats and paper, the giardia in the water supply, and the animals starving in the streets because people put their pets out when they couldn't afford to feed them anymore."Occasionally, Gaitskill uses language I thought we had societally decided to abstain from, and on the whole, I would have preferred more essays and fewer reviews (but if anyone must have bad reviews, let them be like Gaitskill's. She's the sort of critical reviewer McCann suggests buying a beer for and making friends with).Choices of language and ratio don't bury the brilliant writing, though, or the honesty you can feel Gaitskill pulling up from inside herself, whether she's talking about personal responsibility, hunting through the dark for a lost cat, or admitting that day-to-day reality can tarnish ideal situations. Her essays and experiences are searing, but never ask for pity. This is what has happened to her, this is what she knows, this is how life goes on. The fact that she is complicit in her own pain, the fact that responsibility is never shrugged off on anyone and everyone else, is brave; the fact that she never holds herself apart, or talks about other people's shortcomings without offering up her own, is more than brave, or honest: it means you can feel a real and reaching person behind her words."Human love is grossly flawed, and even when it isn't, people routinely misunderstand it, reject it, use it, or manipulate it. It is hard to protect a person you love from pain, because people often choose pain; I am a person who often chooses pain."
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  • James
    January 1, 1970
    I adored Gaitskill's first book, the short story collection Bad Behavior, which was something of a succès de scandale in the late 80s. That period was the cultural high-water mark of humorless, anti-porn, sex-negative feminism and I lived in Berkeley. The "progressive" cultural establishment was rigidly censorious of unruly libidos (power-themed bedroom games not, in those days, being the unremarkable sit-com staples they are today), so a smartly-written book featuring strippers and BDSM sex tha I adored Gaitskill's first book, the short story collection Bad Behavior, which was something of a succès de scandale in the late 80s. That period was the cultural high-water mark of humorless, anti-porn, sex-negative feminism and I lived in Berkeley. The "progressive" cultural establishment was rigidly censorious of unruly libidos (power-themed bedroom games not, in those days, being the unremarkable sit-com staples they are today), so a smartly-written book featuring strippers and BDSM sex that was not a hysterical, hand-wringing exercise in Not a Love Story prudery - a book by a hip young woman, no less - was like edgy manna to a pretentious perv wandering the arid wilderness of first-wave political correctness. In the ensuing years, I intended to read Gaitskill's novels and never got to them, encountering her only occasionally in magazines and when I realized, halfway through the Maggie Gyllenhaal/James Spader rom-com with handcuffs Secretary, that it had been adapted from a considerably darker story in Bad Behavior. I was invariably impressed by these brief encounters, but I was a little unprepared for the writer-crush Somebody with a Little Hammer inspired.That utter mastery of tone. That wicked wit. That clear-eyed perception that, yet, never fails to be humane and generous. That relentless self-honesty and patient teasing-out of tangled, contradictory motives and desires. I just wish my own writing could be half as smart, half as sexy, half as tough, half as kind. My only cavils relate more to reading a collection of occasional pieces than to Gaitskill's formidable chops. She is, without question, a smart reader and an insightful critic. Her Norman Mailer appreciation, This Doughty Nose was a delight. It pleases me when the people I admire themselves admire other people I admire, and, these days, it's not always easy to find Mailer fans. Somebody with a Little Hammer, like many literary essay anthologies, leaned a little too heavily on book reviews. Largely intended for an audience not experienced with the work in question, reviews, especially those that are scrupulous about avoiding spoilers, can be annoyingly coy. Even more so forewords and introductions, of which a few are included here. In addition, serially reading separately published pieces that are working out the same key ideas can feel redundant, however compelling the issues and astute the observations.I will be back for more of Mary Gaitskill's delectable prose. Like Cleopatra in another context, she makes hungry where most she satisfies.
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  • Kathy
    January 1, 1970
    I've read all of Gaitskill's short story collections and one novel, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that she's also an excellent writer of non-fiction essays, many of them collected here. The topics vary widely, including memoir; book, film and art reviews; ruminations on Linda Lovelace; even liner notes for a Bob Dylan album. Gaitskill is probably most well known for having written the short story upon which the movie "Secretary" was based, a subject she also explores. I've always found I've read all of Gaitskill's short story collections and one novel, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that she's also an excellent writer of non-fiction essays, many of them collected here. The topics vary widely, including memoir; book, film and art reviews; ruminations on Linda Lovelace; even liner notes for a Bob Dylan album. Gaitskill is probably most well known for having written the short story upon which the movie "Secretary" was based, a subject she also explores. I've always found Gaitskill to be a really interesting writer - her material is introspective, cerebral and sometimes dark, often concerned with sex, love, and obsession, but also unfailingly honest and unflinching. She is an astute and gifted observer of human frailities who doesn't hesitate to include herself in those musings. One of the best pieces here is"Lost Cat," a memoir that ranges far beyond what that simple title suggests to also explore privilege, charity, love of children not one's own, and the haunting permanence of loss. I was fascinated by all of these essays, even when the subject was completely unfamiliar to me, and I was sorry when I reached the end.
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  • Sonya
    January 1, 1970
    I'm giving this essay collection four stars because I love and connect with Gaitskill's writing, and especially on the strength of her personal essays. The one that I admire most is about a lost kitten, which is the basis of her novel The Mare. The Mare got a lot of criticism for the "white savior" aspect of a liberal white couple who support some children from the Fresh Air fund project. I think those readers might have missed out on the complexity of the issue and more so how Gaitskill relies I'm giving this essay collection four stars because I love and connect with Gaitskill's writing, and especially on the strength of her personal essays. The one that I admire most is about a lost kitten, which is the basis of her novel The Mare. The Mare got a lot of criticism for the "white savior" aspect of a liberal white couple who support some children from the Fresh Air fund project. I think those readers might have missed out on the complexity of the issue and more so how Gaitskill relies on psychology and the mysteries of human behavior to address those complexities, and should they wish, they should read the essay, wherein she and her husband do almost exactly what her fiction couple does in The Mare. Some of the brief reviews in the collection I only skimmed; they are full of insight and thorough analysis, but maybe not subjects I'm interested in, or are about books I want to read before I am subjected to Gaitskill's impressions.Also, the essay where she talks about the 2008 election and declares Sarah Palin a sadist, is a gem. If Palin is a sadist, then Trump is her better in that regard.
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  • Kallie
    January 1, 1970
    Gaitskill is so thoughtful, and though passionate seldom judgmental. If she dislikes something, she explores and analyzes her dislike rather than flatly dismissing the cause. I especially appreciate her thought that art is not about providing people with instruction manuals for life and this thought reflects her thoughtful refusal to judge art based on how life and people 'should be' rather than how they actually are. There is zero sloppy thinking or writing here -- it's all keen observation and Gaitskill is so thoughtful, and though passionate seldom judgmental. If she dislikes something, she explores and analyzes her dislike rather than flatly dismissing the cause. I especially appreciate her thought that art is not about providing people with instruction manuals for life and this thought reflects her thoughtful refusal to judge art based on how life and people 'should be' rather than how they actually are. There is zero sloppy thinking or writing here -- it's all keen observation and insight and she does not spare herself -- her ego, her ignorance, her confusion and weakness -- in the essays that discuss her own experiences as a youngster and adult. I found this book's honesty and love of delving for accuracy and truth encouraging, possessed of what Gaitskill herself describes in others she has met as gallantry.
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  • Ryan
    January 1, 1970
    A very impressive essay collection and probably one of the best books I'll read this year.The best inclusions, IMHO, were:-"The Trouble With Following The Rules"-"Bitch," a review of Wurtzel's Bitch, in Praise of Difficult Women-"Somebody With a Little Hammer"-"Leave the Woman Alone! On the Never ending Political Scandals"These texts can probably be found online, but I won't try to find them or post links here. You should get the book, or, failing that, do the work yourself.If I had to identify A very impressive essay collection and probably one of the best books I'll read this year.The best inclusions, IMHO, were:-"The Trouble With Following The Rules"-"Bitch," a review of Wurtzel's Bitch, in Praise of Difficult Women-"Somebody With a Little Hammer"-"Leave the Woman Alone! On the Never ending Political Scandals"These texts can probably be found online, but I won't try to find them or post links here. You should get the book, or, failing that, do the work yourself.If I had to identify what Gaitskill excels at, I'd say she understands how varied and confusing human emotions are. She also seems to have found a way to write about both the variation and confusion in a way that is compelling and insightful rather that dry or rambling or dull.
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  • Kim
    January 1, 1970
    This book is packed with great writing, but worth picking up ENTIRELY for the essay "Lost Cat," which was gorgeous and devastating. Gaitskill has a raw, intelligently direct way of writing that I find refreshing, especially after reading essay after essay by younger women who seem to be fixated on amusing the hell out of themselves and the reader in a completely detached/ironic way. There is so much wisdom in "Lost Cat," but also plenty of humility, humor, and sadness. Gaitskill drills down to t This book is packed with great writing, but worth picking up ENTIRELY for the essay "Lost Cat," which was gorgeous and devastating. Gaitskill has a raw, intelligently direct way of writing that I find refreshing, especially after reading essay after essay by younger women who seem to be fixated on amusing the hell out of themselves and the reader in a completely detached/ironic way. There is so much wisdom in "Lost Cat," but also plenty of humility, humor, and sadness. Gaitskill drills down to the essence of what it means to be human and to long for connection - but also to be flawed and to fight that connection, every step of the way.
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  • Kate
    January 1, 1970
    Mary Gaitskill's essays are paragons. Whether she is addressing her visit to post-Soviet Saint Petersburg in “The Bridge,” Carl Wilson’s assessment of listener response to Céline Dion in “The Easiest Thing to Forget,” or garish manifestations of social stratification in crumbling Syracuse, New York, in the eponymous essay, Gaitskill’s writing cuts like incisors, leaving flayed her subject, the reader or, many times, both. Culled from various journals and originally published between 1994 and 201 Mary Gaitskill's essays are paragons. Whether she is addressing her visit to post-Soviet Saint Petersburg in “The Bridge,” Carl Wilson’s assessment of listener response to Céline Dion in “The Easiest Thing to Forget,” or garish manifestations of social stratification in crumbling Syracuse, New York, in the eponymous essay, Gaitskill’s writing cuts like incisors, leaving flayed her subject, the reader or, many times, both. Culled from various journals and originally published between 1994 and 2016, these pieces grant Gaitskill’s audience a private tour of a keen and hungry mind.Excerpts:Every day is Judgment Day.The wank-book aspect was clearly indispensable, but what interested me most was, Who is this girl? The Hopeful Innocent in the porn story, the cipher in the news story—what would she be like in real life?To be human is finally to be a loser, for we are all fated to lose our carefully constructed sense of self, our physical strength, our health, our precious dignity, and finally our lives.Purity of feeling must live and breathe in the impure gardens of our confused, compromised, corrupt, and broken hearts.The most obvious thing in the world is the easiest thing to forget.“While it is setting, the sky is marvelous, but then it’s night.” –VN
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  • Josh
    January 1, 1970
    What's great in here is really great, and everything is entertaining, thanks to Gaitskill's talent as a writer and her affable, funny voice. As a collection though, it felt pretty loose -- reviews and personal essays and cultural critique from a wide range of time, and if you're not interested in review or the subjects of those reviews (a few I felt I was missing out on, from not having experienced the review material), it may not do a lot for you. There's a lot of good stuff here, but for some What's great in here is really great, and everything is entertaining, thanks to Gaitskill's talent as a writer and her affable, funny voice. As a collection though, it felt pretty loose -- reviews and personal essays and cultural critique from a wide range of time, and if you're not interested in review or the subjects of those reviews (a few I felt I was missing out on, from not having experienced the review material), it may not do a lot for you. There's a lot of good stuff here, but for some it might be hard to justify purchase of the whole work for only a few of the essays inside.
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  • Jeremy
    January 1, 1970
    Enjoyable essays. I've never read a Gaitskill book but decided to read her essays based on recommendations. I had no idea who she was. But I found her to be an interesting person, certainly very different from me. She wrote well and was extremely open about her life, including multiple rapes. While her Lost Cat essay was the most enjoyable as many have observed, I appreciated hearing a strong woman's perspective particularly on many sexually related issues, many of which are front and center in Enjoyable essays. I've never read a Gaitskill book but decided to read her essays based on recommendations. I had no idea who she was. But I found her to be an interesting person, certainly very different from me. She wrote well and was extremely open about her life, including multiple rapes. While her Lost Cat essay was the most enjoyable as many have observed, I appreciated hearing a strong woman's perspective particularly on many sexually related issues, many of which are front and center in our society right now with all of sexual misconduct allegations among the well known.
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  • Alex Hubbard
    January 1, 1970
    It's an understatement to say Mary Gaitskill writes well. Each word and sentence in Somebody with a Little Hammer is a pleasure to read, and the author certainly knows her stuff when it comes to writing and evaluating fiction. Still, the fact that the bulk of this book is previously published reviews makes SWALH fairly boring to read. Essays like "Lost Cat" and "Icon" sang; everything else just sounded like (well-crafted) noise.
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  • Sarah
    January 1, 1970
    This was a little uneven. To be expected considering it's a compilation of essays and editorials and book reviews. I love Mary Gaitskill but I don't care about anyone's review of Dickens or Chekhov or Nabokov. Some interesting stuff in here that's essentially about rape culture but as the essay was written in the 90s it's steeped in narratives about 'victim culture'. It made for absorbing reading given current events.
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  • Iva
    January 1, 1970
    Mary Gaitskill demonstrates quite a range in these essays. Some are book reviews, others are about pop culture, and many are very personal. The longest (and best) essay is about when she brought a "Fresh Air Fund" child from New York to upstate New York and her involvement with the family. Gaitskill's novel, The Mare, is based on this experience of hers. These essays show she is not afraid of difficult subjects. She is an honest and gifted writer.
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  • Sandy Sopko
    January 1, 1970
    Fascinating topics (many, the Book of Revelation, the meaning of a lost beloved cat, political extramarital scandals, election takeaways, Peter Pan, Dickens, etc., etc.) in this collection. Gaitskill shies away from nothing. Her observations cut like a surgeon's knife while she questions everything: Woman's place in the world, what true selves exist behind the masks people wear, what one has a right to ask from life and from others, what death means, what love means, what any of it means.
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  • Katrina
    January 1, 1970
    A few essays mixed in with reviews of books and movies that were, for the most part, unfamiliar. With the exception of the essay on the missing cat and the one on Sarah Palin, none of this moved, enlightened or humored me. I found it all a bit pretentious and disturbing in its imagery. Glad this was a library check-out and not a purchase!
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