“Description,” by Mary Gaitskill
Appeared in Threepenny Review in their Winter 2009 issue, online here; collected in Don’t Cry: Stories (2009, Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc.)
I feel a curious blankness about this story, compared with the others in this collection—a lack of emotional engagement. Maybe because it’s from the point of view of a young man. But this particular young man is in touch with his emotions to a considerable degree, so why the blankness?
Once they start talking about description, all the description takes on an inevitable self-conscious feel, and maybe that’s distancing.
The reveal at the end is that Joseph perceives Kevin’s fucking his mother figure as him “winning” something—that Joseph is a cruder, more primal person, deep down, than his thoughtfulness and sensitivity would suggest. Crude and primal aren’t quite the words I want. Perhaps it’s just that, like all human beings, like Ruskin, he’s an animal; it’s certainly typical of Gaitskill to remind us of that.