I had just graduated from college and moved from rural Vermont to New York City, and I had very little idea what I was doing. I got an internship at a culture website, and then, after a few months, I also got my first real job: sitting at the front desk at NYLON magazine. Most days I arrived at 8am and left at 8pm. I was miserable.

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New York: Poseidon Press. The Avery Hopwood Awards, given by the University of Michigan, have spotlighted several generations of talented student writers. The first recipients included the likes of John Ciardi and Arthur Miller.

The middle generation of award winners represents a wide range, from Max Apple to Lawrence Kasdan. The next generation has introduced us to some of the best of the new story writers, people like Alyson Hagy, the author of the collection ''Madonna on Her Back,'' and Sharon Dilworth, who recently won the annual Iowa Short Fiction Award for her forthcoming collection, ''The Long White. Most unusual for any short-story collection, this book has been sold to more than a dozen foreign publishers.

Yet none of these stories has been published in any American magazine. Looking at the stories, as remarkable for their substance as for their obvious skill, originality and control, one is forced to face the question of why our magazine fiction editors let them slip past.

And from this question we can begin to define some of the special qualities of ''Bad Behavior. None of the nine excellent stories is, by any means, trendy; all of them would be a challenge to any editor I know. For one thing, you actually have to read these stories and to let them happen to you before you rush to judgment. Technically, they are lean and quick and spare, tightly controlled. Gaitskill gives them the added psychological dimensions of flashing memories and dreams and fantasies to compete with their well-evoked perceptions.

That she manages to accomplish these things within the confines of contemporary stories that move along as quickly and gracefully as anybody's is a small miracle. Style always works for substance, and she can and does give you plain writing or fancy, as needed.

Her technique doesn't announceJU or call attention to itself. All but two of the stories take place in contemporary New York City, and it is a profoundly grungy and unglamorous Babylon. All of the stories have something to do with what used to be called sexual perversion, mostly sadomasochistic fun and games.

These things, along with the usual ingestion of chemical substances and the run-of-the-mill, end-of-century despair, are matter-of-fact, mundane, unmemorable, neither shocking nor titillating. Remember the late stories of John O'Hara? How well he used the shock of sexual perversity as the central revelation? Here we go a step further.

It is never revelation, just another quality in the cumulative discovery of character. Wise beyond her years, utterly unsentimental, Mary Gaitskill is at once ruthlessly objective and sympathetic.

She has no easy ideological camouflage to hide behind. She writes, equally well, about all the classes in America. Her blue-collar people are real and true, not the odd exotics we are too often given. Her moneyed people aren't all that different. They just have more money. This is such a built collection, structured so that each story leads into the next, creating a new world.

It is a collection I urge you to read and to read right - from beginning to end. When you get to the glorious last story, ''Heaven,'' denser with life than many novels, you will have to be cold-blooded indeed not to find yourself crying, as much for the joy of art as for the pity and sorrow at the secret heart of all living things.

For Mary Gaitskill, writing has always been connected to bad behavior. In first grade, she says, she wrote a little story about a pair of blue jays ''and was made to read it aloud to two juvenile delinquent third-graders being held after school.

Growing up in the Detroit suburbs of Livonia and Northville, Ms. Gaitskill ran into her own bad times - leaving high school and home because of troubles with her family. Her crisis spurred a series of moves, and eventually she settled in Toronto for a few years, at one point working as a stripper. But by the time she returned to the United States and enrolled in the University of Michigan, the ''mess'' was becoming material: she had decided to be a writer. A journalism major, she wrote short fiction in her spare time.

One story - a ''wholesome'' one, she said - won the school's Avery Hopwood writing award. She had tried for the prize before, she said, ''but I was writing sleazebag stories, and they always lost.

They are trying to make connections. Gaitskill, 33, is now writing a novel - and trying to deal with success. View on timesmachine. TimesMachine is an exclusive benefit for home delivery and digital subscribers.

To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them. Occasionally the digitization process introduces transcription errors or other problems; we are continuing to work to improve these archived versions. Home Page World U.


Mary Gaitskill

Mary Gaitskill's tales of desire and dislocation in s New York caused a sensation with their frank, caustic portrayals of men and women's inner lives. As her characters have sex, try and fail to connect, play power games and inflict myriad cruelties on each other, she skewers urban life with precision and candour. Stubbornly original, with a sort of rhythm and fine moments that flatten you out when you don't expect it, these stories are a pleasure to read. Gaitskill writes with such authority, such radar-perfect detail, that she is able to make even the most extreme situations seem real Quite honestly changed my life I cannot believe I was 32 before I discovered it. I just thought it was one of the most amazing things I'd ever read and it now lives on my desk so that I can revisit it any time.


On Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behaviour

Image: Mary Gaitskill c Hillary Harvey. The protagonist Beth and her unnamed male lover spend a weekend together on the mutual understanding that she is a masochist derives pleasure from pain, emotional and sexual, inflicted on her and he is a sadist derives pleasure from hurting others. In this way, they seem to fulfil archetypal gender roles: she is desperate to melt, swoon, lose herself entirely in the overwhelmingly strong embrace of her man. He asserts too rigid boundaries; he is aloof, cold, cruel. Beth echoes all the heroines of mass-produced romance novels who seek to absolve themselves of the dilemma of their own freedom by submitting to a man with the power to control them.

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