The 25 Best New York City Novels

19. Veronica (2005)

Author: Mary Gaitskill
Areas Featured: Meatpacking District, East Village

Mary Gaitskill writes with cold clarity about the uglier emotions. Her characters are hurt, and they hurt other people. Veronica follows a woman named Alison, who, from a young age, pursues pleasure and beauty. She becomes a model while still a teenager and travels to Paris. A turbulent love affair, a nightmarish S-and-M club, and other extremes introduce her to what people are capable of; she returns to her home in New Jersey where she tries to become just another community college student. Eventually, she lands in New York. Gaitskill's prose is blistering:

"My sublet was a loft in the meatpacking district, a labyrinth of sleeping rough-faced buildings with sweet and rotten breath...Late that night, the sleeping buildings woke and opened for business. I stood in a window as tall as a door and watched heavy trucks feed fresh-killed beef to an openmouthed warehouse across the street. The light from the open mouth shone on one and a half cows at a time, their bodies hanging inverted on the conveyor belt, heads wagging on fresh-cut throats, horned shadows nodding on the warehouse wall. The belt droned and the massed corpses danced with jiggling forefeet. The man operating the belt whistled a song. A snout and gentle brow was flung out, then rolled back into the mass. The man driving the truck joked with the man running the belt. I can accept this, I thought. I can live this life."

In the city, Alison meets Veronica. It's the '80s and Veronica is one of many New Yorkers dying of AIDS. A counterpoint to the fiercely male novels that focus on the same time period—Bright Lights, Big City, American PsychoVeronica has the additional advantage of hindsight. If McInerney was still bright-eyed about the possibility of the city, and Ellis was furious and dejected, Gaitskill, writing in the 2000s, is calm. She observes the fallout and writes from a distance. —RS

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