Last night, Mary Gaitskill delivered a craft talk at a Hugo House event hosted at Washington Hall. Gaitskill was mostly interested in the intangible elements of writing: that mysterious intangible known as "style" which creeeps in around the words and imbues the text with a meaning that is greater than the sum of its parts. Gaitskill's talk ranged from Donald Trump• to ant decapitations to The Wire creator David Simon's claims that TV shows are a more relevant storytelling tool than the novel, because novels are about individuals while TV shows are about social systems.
Gaitskill demonstrated the importance of style by reading pieces of Pale Fire and Bleak House and Flannery O'Connor's story "Good Country People." The small character sketches she read demonstrated how a tiny passage of a novel, or a paragraph from a story, can contain all the larger themes of the work. My favorite part of the talk came when Gaitskill described Bleak House's Lady Dedlock: "She's proud and she's cold," Gaitskill said, "and she's proud and she's cold, over and over and over again. She's like a playing card, almost." That blending of one of Dickens's most unforgettable characters with a visual from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland demonstrates Gaitskill's most impressive talent: her ability to find the invisible threads that connect elements of our world, and to make them visible, revealing what always been right in our line of sight.