By Mary Gaitskill
240 pages; Pantheon
"The world is tipping over, like a table, and everything on it is falling off," writes Mary Gaitskill in the title story of Don't Cry, her latest mind-searing, soul-rattling, gratitude-inducing collection. In these stories, people talk to themselves in cars, in airports, in the privacy of their own homes, but they speak to each other most significantly without words. "I thrive," says the body of an Ethiopian orphan to the newly widowed woman into whose care he has momentarily been placed. A lonely hospital worker waiting at the curb for traffic to pass speaks with her eyes to an angry young man inside a car at a stoplight—"What you have is good," she "says," and he hears her. And in the hyperreal "Mirror Ball," a one-night stand leads to a lengthy conversation between two disembodied soul fragments that changes the lives of their barely conscious host-bodies forever. Gaitskill never tries to protect us, not from her vast, strange intelligence, her dazzling spirographic flights of language, nor from the annihilating beauty, the unutterable despair in the world. In this moment of cataclysm, each story asks, "What is the value of one human being's experience being accurately and specifically described?" And each story answers, "Nothing, everything."