Set between the 60's and the 90's, Veronica is the story of a young model named Allison and her friendship with an older woman, Veronica, who is dying of AIDS. While the present action is a fifty-year-old Allison narrating her day in the first person present, describing going to work and walking home and other routine things, the timeline continuously jumps back into the past, telling the story of Allison's life, how she got into modeling, her rise and fall in the career, and her friendship with Veronica. The novel spends more time in the past, going over memories and events in Veronica's life, than it does in the present action. This jumping back and forth in time, mixed with the rarely-used first person present point of view, makes the novel hard to understand at first, but within an hour of reading you get used to it.
The writing in Veronica is sometimes very beautiful, and it's clear that Gaitskill can turn a phrase, but that beauty is marred by the self-consciousness of the writing. I was almost always aware of the writing itself, and it gave me a feeling that the author was trying too hard to sound meaningful or artsy. It came off as self-conscious and even pretentious at times, and that really annoyed me while I was reading. I'm all for evocative artistic writing, but often this book skipped past beautiful and went straight into the realm of truly purple prose. The first person present point of view, while an interesting choice, wasn't executed as well as I would have liked in some cases. There were times when Allison was thinking things that no-one could possible think in the present. No-one sums up their entire friendship with someone and that friend's philosophy on life in the few seconds it takes to shake their hand, and those kinds of realizations and philosophizing should have been used in retrospection only. In a book otherwise focused on accurately portraying consciousness through flashbacks and sentence structure that mimics thought patterns, this kind of inaccuracy sticks out like a sore thumb. Add that to the times when the author had a "Here's a metaphor, let me explain it to you" moment, and the writing in this book annoyed more than it pleased.
Veronica wasn't a complete failure. I could tell what the author was trying to do, and there were times when she succeeded. The juxtaposition of cruelty and beauty in her descriptions and the sequence of events was a good way of communicating the theme of the novel. Though the tone was too detached for me to ever feel for the characters, the events that took place were often glamorously violent or destructive, and that has its own interest. Still, the occasional shock value of the plot and the attempts at thematic meaning just weren't enough to make this novel worthwhile. If I hadn't been reading it for class, I don't think I would have finished it, and I'm almost positive that by this time next year I will have forgotten it completely.
Recommendations: Lots of sex, drugs, cursing, and other things of that nature.