Veronica, Mary Gaitskill, Pantheon Books, 2005, 257 pp
This book gave me symptoms of the flu. I don't mean that as a criticism. The two main characters, Veronica and Allie, are sick. Veronica has AIDS, Allie has Hepatitis C. Told in first person through Allie's eyes, the story of their strange friendship is fraught with the dark side of late 20th century attempts to connect with other human beings.
With unrelenting intensity, Allie relives running away from home as a teenager, hanging out with other disconnected people, doing drugs and engaging in promiscuous sex. She falls into modeling, which is no world for a young woman with identity and self-esteem issues. Finally when she is thoroughly used and broken, she meets Veronica at a temp job in New York City and their unlikely relationship is formed.
The writing is literary in the extreme but finely crafted and evocative in its spareness. Gaitskill takes you deep into the dark night of human loneliness and despair, similar to many of Joyce Carol Oates' novels but without all the rushing gush of words. The physical illnesses are a metaphor for the spiritual malaise, as I believe they are in real life.
I would not recommend this book to anyone who is the least bit emotionally unstable. It is frightening and the sudden bright ray of realization and redemption at the end does nothing to mitigate the murky degradation Gaitskill has put you through for over 200 pages. We all have our moments of depression but Allie's is unending. It made me super grateful for the closeness and love I enjoy with many people in my life but so sad for all the lonely people.