‘Shot of Short’ #22: Wish Fulfillment by Mary Gaitskill

Title: Wish Fulfillment by Mary Gaitskill
Date Read: 09 February 2008
Available Online?: YES (as one of the stories posted by Harper Perennial on their website Fifty-Two Stories, which promises a new (or classic) short story from their collection, posted every week throughout 2009)

Briefly: The narrator recounts the dream of a little girl Mary, where events and feelings correspond in similar ways to the real-time events of the narrator as she relays the dream (I think :o))

Afterthoughts: I read it once, I read it twice, and, because it’s so short, I read it a third time. But for the life of me I couldn’t (still can’t) determine what on earth this story was trying to tell me. So I’ve come up with the theory – that the story has been written to purposely be as vague and ambiguous as it can be. Why? Well the story is obviously centred around a dream and the switching back and forward between reality and a dreamscape. Just as our dreams are often jumbled and not fully understood, so this story is, so that it matches that ambiguous feeling we get when attempting to recall a past dream. Does that feasible? Probably not but it’s the best theory I could come up with :o)

Notable Quote: “As Mary descended the stairs, she became me, or, to put it another way, I became dimly aware of her, descending down into herself as I, a middle-aged woman, drove through the town where I live on a rainy spring night listening to an old song on an obsolete tape. The music in the song started with the sound of a crippled machine stripped to its barest function, turning unevenly round and round on a cockeyed pivot, screeching sweetly and brokenly. There was a sound like slow-struck bells and a voice like that of somebody looking for something in the dark.”

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

*Story read as part of my 100 Shots of Short reading challenge.

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).


  1. Interesting to read your site: I just stumbled upon it via Fifty-Two-Stories. com, which you link to here. ‘100 Shots of Short’ sounds like an interesting challenge; I must investigate! I love short stories, I will take a good look around here for some inspiration.

    I decided a week ago to read a book a day for a year (I was drunk I think: now I’m sober, I’m including film adaptations too, so I don’t go insane), so I’m happy to find sites like yours. Do you have a favourite short story collection?

    The Gaitskill story had a great opening line, don’t you think?:

    One night Mary, a little girl with sisters and parents who loved her, woke in a dark forest. At first she was afraid and then she realized it was her backyard.

    After that, I’m not so sure!

  2. Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)

    Great to hear from you – whether sober or not :o). Thank you for your kind words.

    ‘A book a day for a year’ – I think you’re bordering on the insane, but given I keep scheming up wacky bookish challenges myself, I don’t have a lot of room to talk (although I don’t think even *I* would go for a book a DAY :o))

    Favourite short story collection? – No one anthology springs to mind, although I love any short by Chekhov.

    I agree ‘Wish Fulfillment’ has a lot of promise in that opening line, but it just gets too obscure, too quickly. Glad I’m not the only one who thought that though :o)

    Anyway, nice to speak to you. Good luck with that insane challenge and speak to you soon I hope