Mary Gaitskill: “The Devil's Treasure”

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Author, Mary Gaitskill. Photo courtesy of Mary Gaitskill.

Mary Gaitskill discusses making this collage of her work. It’s an autobiographical account on the state of her aesthetics. “The Devil’s Treasure” features sections from her novels “Two Girls, Fat and Thin,” “Veronica,” “The Mare,” and her yet-to-be-finished “The End of Seasons,” in addition to commentary, illustrations, and a story inspired by a dream her younger self had about stealing from the devil. This superb book is for more than just super fans. Gaitskill speaks about the opposition inside us, the doubleness of human nature, and a longing for unity.

Excerpt from The Devil’s Treasure by Mary Gaitskill

         I am sixty-five years old.  I dreamed of going to hell to steal from the devil when I was six.  The story is not the same as the dream; in the dream I didn’t get lost in hell or meet anybody or see faces on a wall.  I just took the treasure from behind the devil’s armchair (where he sat peacefully reading) and ran back up the stairs into my yard, into my home.  Right before I put the bag of treasure under my bed, I opened the top drawer of my dresser to see if my underwear and the weird little objects that I collected there were the same; that everything was as usual somehow convinced me that the dream was real and I went to bed satisfied.  I was very disappointed to find that the bag wasn’t there the next day. 

         I had another powerful dream sometime after that, maybe I was seven.  I was at school in the big auditorium where we would be assembled for any important announcement or national occasional, like a speech about the meaning of Thanksgiving or patriotism.  In the dream the whole school was present and the principal was giving an inspiring speech.  But we couldn’t concentrate on the speech because behind the principal was a huge cake that was almost as high as the ceiling.  When he was finished talking we were going to eat the cake and we could hardly wait.  He went on and on, but finally the moment arrived and all the kids charged the fantastic cake which had been conveniently cut into individual pieces.  I grabbed a piece and started to take a bite—and then saw that the cake was full of worms. 

         When I told my husband about this dream he said “You were realizing at a young age that whenever an authority figure is giving an inspiring speech, there’s got to be worms somewhere.”  That could be; the social nature of the dream is clear in the location of the school assembly room—my locus of official civic life at the time.  It is about socially dispensed bounty that is beautiful and appetizing but full of rot not visible from the outside.  It is also about greed, the kind of greed that children are punished for in fairy tales, the forever greed of humankind.

         My dream of the devil is about greed too, for candy and the treasure with which to buy it.  In the story about the dream, this greed comes from starvation: women are starving for love and the beauty of a young man who lives in a delightful world, a young man whose own starvation transforms him into a charnel house where arms are torn off and eaten; a young man whose soul is a beautiful song trapped in the terrible place where it is housed. 

Excerpted from The Devil's Treasure © 2021 Mary Gaitskill.. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Ze Books. All rights reserved.