When the Whip Comes Down: William Deresiewicz Reviews Mary Gaitskill’s Don’t Cry

Posted by @ 9:08 am on April 25th, 2009

There's a heaven above you, baby.

I read “When the Whip Comes Down”  in The Nation yesterday, and I think it’s well worth sharing, not so much because it matters whether Deresiewicz “likes” Mary Gaitskill (he does) or the new book in particular (he doesn’t), but because I think the piece itself is a shining example of a particular kind of critical writing, more or less in its optimum form. Though he’s fit his thoughts into a review-length essay, I think Deresiewicz has given us a valuable piece of criticism-proper. You come away from the review with a substantially enlarged and nuanced understanding of Gaitskill’s work, even if you’ve read it all before (and I have, except for the new one). I also think any aspiring critic looking to hone her skills (and I’ll go ahead and count myself among this number) stands to learn quite a lot from reading Deresiewicz and understanding how he works. After you’ve read “When the Whip Comes Down,” you should click-through on his name at The Nation website and check out his previous work for them. Critics are like any other kind of writer–if you’re lucky enough to find a good one, read up.

How Wood Works: The Riches and Limits of James Wood” (11/19/08)

Homing Patterns: Marilynne Robinson’s Fiction” (9/24/08)

Fuku Americanus” – on Junot Diaz (11/08/07)

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