‘Secretary’, by Mary Gaitskill

Everyone familiar with the film of the same name should read the original story by Mary Gaitskill, whose tense accounts of New York in the 1980s are some of the best I’ve read, the written equivalent of photographer Nan Goldin’s The Ballad of Sexual Dependency series. Instead of the Hollywood version of ‘Secretary’ with shy but sexy Maggie Gyllenhaal and remote but irresistible James Spader hooking up in a BDSM happy-ever-after, this is entirely more grubby, unfulfilling and realistic. Introverted Debby is persuaded by her despairing family to take a dull job as typist for an unassuming, not particularly successful lawyer, who remains unnamed. When Debby makes a typing mistake, the spanking begins, to her terror and delight. It’s a study in social awkwardness and mutual loneliness with faultless sentences such as this: ‘It felt like he could have put his hand through my rib cage, grabbed my heart, squeezed it a little to see how it felt, then let go’.

(From Bad Behavior, Sceptre, 1988)

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