Mary Gaitskill’s 2012 short story “Today I’m Yours” brings to life a torrid love affair through erotic and devastating encounters layered amidst dreams and memories spanning fifteen years. Over the years, Gaitskill’s story has been controversial, with some critics heaping on praise and others delivering harsh criticism. As an avid reader, I felt I had to give this story a shot and discover what all the commotion was about. After I finished, I was full of mixed emotions.
This article is a review of “Today I’m Yours” and provides an analysis of the story’s most vital and weakest elements.
First, I’d like to dive into two of the most substantial and strongest aspects of this short story: her vivid character description and use of personification.
“Today I’m Yours” is brimful with striking images that capture the essence of both Ella and Dani. However, her attention to detail and in-depth description of even the most minute characters truly sets this story apart.
For example, as Ella waits at a bus stop, she briefly notices two people, stating, “Behind the glass of the doughnut place, a dark woman with rhythmic arms labored over golden dough. On the street, a hunched man with a sour face strutted back and forth, displaying the masking-tape words on the back of his jacket: COPS ARE TOPS — I’M A BOTTOM, plus an arrow pointing at his butt.”
This is the only moment where either the woman or man is ever mentioned; however, Gaitskill takes time to bring them to life, animating them with adjectives full of movement such as “rhythmic” and “sour,” and highly unique (and comical) details such as what is written on the man’s shirt.
Gaitskill spares no expense in detail on any characters, giving the reader striking images and a tangible sense of realism.
Moreover, Gaitskill’s personification of body parts and objects to convey Dani and Ella’s emotions is extremely powerful.
Describing an encounter with Dani, Gaitskill writes, “‘Hello,’ she said softly. Hello, said the heat of her hand.” Not only is Gaitskill able to bring her characters to life, but their interactions as well. The hand's personification is subtle, yet it creates a sensory experience for the reader as they can feel the same heat and electricity that Ella feels.
Overall, the description is a crucial aspect of “Today I’m Yours;” it cannot be argued that Gaitskill has a masterful way with words.
Now, onto the weaker points of Gaitskill’s story.
Although the characters and scenes are brought to life in a way that transports the reader into the story, there are a few structural aspects that pull them back out and distract them from an otherwise captivating narrative.
From the first page, there is a lot of repetition, either within the same sentence or back-to-back sentences, making the writing initially redundant and almost irritating. For example, in the first paragraph, the narrator describes her dream as “a room of hidden chambers, each chamber nested inside the previous one” and then, later on, refers to “the chamber of [her] dream.”
Similarly, in the second paragraph, she describes lights and casinos as “monstrous” in consecutive sentences. While strategic repetition can bring back images or ideas that the author wishes to emphasize, using the same word or adjective in such proximity stagnates pictures and creates a one-dimensional experience for the reader when a scene or character is described.
Furthermore, the lack of variety in diction causes the story to start exceptionally slowly. I could not fully immerse myself in the narrative because the repetition sticks out so much. The later parts of the story are filled with such complex diction and unique comparisons; using more synonyms or variety in language from the get-go would have allowed the reader to transition from the real world into the story more fluidly.
In addition, there is a distinct lack of cohesion between sentences and paragraphs throughout the story. This could be a stylistic choice to reflect Dani and Ella’s disjointed relationship. Still, at times it prevents the reader from understanding the meaning of a sentence or idea.
For example, on page 223, the narrator states, “I looked up, my mind suddenly tingling with a half-remembered song, and there she was, looking at me. A smiling beggar wandered between us, giggling the coins in his cup, and I remembered that when we first met, she had…. ‘Hello, Ella,’ she said.”
While the first sentence ends with Ella noticing that Dani is staring at her, the following sentence begins with “A smiling beggar,” leading the reader to believe that either the smiling beggar is looking at Ella or that Ella is calling Dani a “smiling beggar.” This interjecting sentence is a bit jarring and leaves too much room for ambiguity and confusion for the reader.
There is also a substantial lack of cohesion between paragraphs, which creates very obscure timelines that are too difficult to follow. While in one section, Ella is in the present moment having a conversation with Dani about going to a cafe, suddenly, for the following few pages and without any notice, the timeline changes to an encounter that happened six months prior and then into a dream, and finally back into the present moment.
I had to re-read passages several times to ensure I hadn’t missed anything. Gaitskill fully leans into allowing the situation to carry the narration. Still, it is to the point that for almost the entirety of the story, the reader is disoriented and confused about what is happening and when.
Attempting to capture the sporadic, turbulent nature of the relationship, Gaitskill's first-person narration is both choppy and inconsistent as she jumps between timelines and blurs the lines between which moments (if any) are in the present and which are distant memories or hallucinations. However, the interior of each scene is full of vivid textures and images, highlighted by the careful use of personification, both of which transform the passive reader into a voyeur.
Overall, I feel that “Today I’m Yours” is worth reading. If you are a fan of tragic romances and are looking for something to get lost in (literally and figuratively), this short story provides the perfect escape.
Share This Post On
Leave a comment
You need to login to leave a comment. Log-in