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Staff Picks: End of Empires, Keep Your Day Job

December 3, 2010 | by

Mary Gaitskill. Illustration by Adrian Bellesguard.

Sometimes you get lucky: You find a used book for five dollars at The Strand by an author you’ve been meaning to read. The cover of Mary Gaitskill’s Two Girls, Fat and Thin, is garish, and its themes—incest, middle-school mean-girl power dynamics, adolescent pseudo-rape—are objectively repellent. But Gaitskill is so dead-on in her examination of the emotional life of her two central characters that I can’t help losing myself in the pages until finding a line—one girl holds “her aloneness around her like a magic cloak”—that when I look up, I discover I’ve missed my subway stop. —Miranda Popkey

I have been reading J. G. Farrell’s Troubles, a historical novel–cum–comedy of manners set during the Irish guerrilla war of 1919–21. The backdrop is a grand, Victorian-era hotel in County Wexford, whose squash and palm courts are gradually going to seed—a charming, if somewhat creaky allegory for the end of empire. But with history about to blow their roof off, Farrell’s Anglo-Irish protagonists contrive to worry about how to replace the shingles. I'm everywhere reminded of Kazuo Ishiguro’s great theme, how the collapse of old orders gives new license to self-deception. —Robyn Creswell

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