Bad Behavior: Stories Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 56 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Bad Behavior.
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Bad Behavior: Stories Summary & Study Guide Description

Bad Behavior: Stories Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Bad Behavior: Stories by Mary Gaitskill.

The following version of this book was used to create this guide: Gaitskill, Mary. Bad Behavior: Stories. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2009.

"Daisy's Valentine":

Despite having been dating Diane for eight years, Joey became enamored by Daisy, his coworker at the used bookstore where he worked on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He had settled into a comfortable routine with Diane, as they would do drugs routinely three days out of the week. Joey observed Daisy before he made a move, and noticed she was a horrible worker who elicited the sympathies of people around her by sharing intimate details about cheating on her boyfriend with emotionally abusive men. Yet, he observed she was polite and considerate in her interactions with customers, and instead of feeling a sexual need for her, he felt a need to protect her from all the hurt she received from the world. Diane noticed that Joey was being distant but he would not reveal his infatuation with Daisy to her.

Hesitating for a few days, Joey handed a valentine to Daisy, which she gladly accepted. While Joey began to court her, Daisy warned him that she always hurt people who are kind to her. Despite this, Joey continued on in his pursuit, and they revealed their backgrounds to each other, Joey had had a history of abuse in his family, while Daisy had a history of being attracted to abusive men who could harm her emotionally and physically. Joey took Daisy to an opera, where she struggled to follow the performance. After the opera, Diane found out about Joey's affair and kicked him out. He left to spend time with his friends Eliot and Rita, two paranoid drug addicts. Joey and Daisy continued to see each other. At the end of the story, both were harassed and humiliated for standing on the steps of a building by a well-to-do middle-aged couple.

"A Romantic Weekend":

Having suddenly fallen in love with a married man, Beth waited for him as they were about to leave Manhattan to spend a weekend in Washington D.C. at his grandmother's apartment. He and his wife, a Korean woman, were were strangely attracted to one other; she liked the fact that she believed he could hurt her, and he liked her possible submissiveness. While Beth waited for the married man, ridden with anxiety and indulging in sexual fantasies, he stood across the street, observing her pathetic behavior. While the man felt some measure of guilt due to his wife, he envisioned that the affair between him and Beth could work, as he could balance it with his marriage. Despite their curt conversation and his constant meanness, they embarked on their trip.

Once in Washington D.C, Beth found herself constantly frustrated by his tendencies to put her down at every turn. As the situation between them became more uncomfortable, they began to bicker and attack each other's character. While having sex, he physically harmed her, biting and bruising her nipple. Over the course of the night, they both came to realize that the trip together was a mistake because they had unfair expectations of each other. On the drive back to New York, they began to be more open with each other, and the conversation flowed smoothly. The man realized that the affair between the two could work out.

"Something Nice":

While his wife was out of town, Fred, a veterinarian from Westchester, visited a brothel. There, he began to spend time with a prostitute named Lisette. There was an instant rapport between the two and she revealed that her real name was Jane. Fred lied and said he worked in corporate law. Even though he loved his wife very much, the physical intimacy between the two had decreased and he began visiting prostitutes as a result. Attracted to Jane, Fred made routine visits to her, and she considered him a reprieve from the regular litany of customers she had. Gradually they spent less time having sex and more time having intellectual conversations. He encouraged her to reach for her full potential rather than languish as a prostitute.

As his attraction for Jane developed and his wife’s return grows closer, Fred asked Jane to meet him outside work, promising to compensate her well for their time spent together. She was hesitant but agreed nonetheless. However, she never showed at their allotted time and place. The next day, Fred's wife returned home. A year after Fred’s and Jane’s last meeting, Fred went Christmas shopping in Manhattan for his wife and niece. After shopping, he stopped in a cafe for lunch, and noticed Jane having lunch with a friend. Upon seeing him, she immediately covered her face and continued on with her conversation. Fred noticed the run-down figure of the friend as they discussed a mutual friend of theirs who had become an emotional burden on Jane. Becoming inexplicably embarrassed, Fred left the restaurant. He noticed only once he reached Westchester that he had left his wife's present in the cafe.

"An Affair, Edited":

While walking to work in Manhattan, Joel noticed an old girlfriend of his from his time at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Surprised at having seen her, he ignored her and continued on his walk, which was a different route than normal. Joel reflected that their past relationship was just enough to be called an affair and began to think about what she might be doing at the moment. Working for a film distribution company that dealt with foreign films, Joel had found a good niche. However, he was not progressing as he thought he would be in his career. At work, his colleague and friend, Cecilia, with whom he had an affair for two years, began to detail her new relationship. Joel thought with some disappointment about the contrasts in their careers. Cecilia’s career was taking off, while his seemed to be stagnating. He decided to call some of his romantic acquaintances, who only commiserate with him about the directions their lives have taken.

The following day, Joel called a friend of his from Michigan named Wilson in order to ask about Sara—the old girlfriend he saw the day before. Wilson had not been enthused about their relationship, and Joel remembered telling Wilson that Sara was a beautiful woman and he was lucky to have met her. On his phone call with Wilson, Joel discovered that she might still have been working at the same bar in the East Village. Presumably she did not have much success with her painting. Joel recalled her opening up to him and being vulnerable about her painting career, after which he ended their affair, not wanting to deal with her emotional complexity. That night he went to a nightclub with a few friends, but grew disillusioned with the environment around him. Lying in his bed at home, he remembered a moment when Sara had declared her love for him, and he rejected her cruelly.


After five years, Susan returned to Manhattan in order to visit friends. Walking around, she thought she saw an old friend of hers, Leisha, begging on Bleecker Street. Initially she turned the corner, wanting to spare both of them the embarrassment, but she went back and discovered it was not her friend. Walking away from the woman, Susan began to recall her relationship with Leisha, who she met at the University of Michigan. Initially they were not friends, but they had each had an affair with the same man. Despite initial contempt for each other, they eventually became close friends, and bonded over their mutual affair and their hatred for their shared friends.

Although Susan’s career had not achieved the success she expected as a writer, she had nonetheless settled nicely in Chicago as an editor and had a steady boyfriend she liked. Staying at a friend's apartment in New York City, Susan reflected on the years she spent with Leisha. She offered Leisha emotional support whenever her friend found herself in an abusive relationship or had struggles with her career as an actress. While they initially were happy to support each other, eventually resentment began to build, one accusing the other of wanting the relationship on their own terms. Susan had felt that Leisha only contacted her when she was in need and was never reliably there for Susan, while Leisha lobbed the same accusation at Susan. On an impulse, Susan placed a phone call to the man they had both dated. From him, she found out that Leisha had gotten married and moved to Los Angeles. Happy that she disturbed him in his sleep, Susan thought about her low opinion of Leisha and what they would say to each other if they ever met.

"Trying to Be":

Whenever she found herself bored or running low on money, Stephanie found herself work in a brothel. She did not consider it serious work, and in fact enjoyed it at times. One night, Stephanie gave her number to Bernard, a lawyer. Unlike her conversations with her other customers, she and Bernard spent the majority of their time talking about her career ambitions and family background. They quickly had sex and she realized she taken comfort from being around him. Later, at a gallery showing in Soho with her friend Sandra, Stephanie was slighted in the presence of people whose careers were more accomplished than hers.

As Stephanie began to spend more time with Bernard, she opened up to him about her career disappointments and her relationship with her parents. He offered reassurances and laughed at her anecdotes. While she did not consider telling Sandra about hooking, she did tell her friend Babette, who was immediately indignant. With Bernard's encouragement, Stephanie quit her job as a prostitute in order to pursue her writing. Bernard asked to see her outside, and while meeting at her apartment, he left her money, despite her insistence against it. Stephanie told her friends about Bernard indirectly, mentioning she was seeing a married man who gave her money. Gradually she began to realize that all their relationship did was satisfy fantasies of each other. During their last meeting, there was a sense of awkwardness in the air, as they carefully avoided certain arguments. After Bernard left, Stephanie realized that he had not left her any money because it would be the last time they would see each other. She felt sad and cried, and then went out, enjoying the exuberance of the world and looking forward to a new chapter in her life ahead.


After taking a typing and secretarial class, Debby began a job hunt, hoping to spend more time away from her family. She and her father constantly fought, while her sister spent the majority of her time alone. Bouncing from interview to interview, Debby eventually landed a job at a lawyer's office, where she was tasked with nothing more than typing and taking calls. Debby initially enjoyed her job, as her boss, the lawyer was polite enough, other than saying that she should open a little bit. Her family also approved of the job. However, when Debby made a spelling mistake on a letter, the lawyer became upset and verbally abusive, yelling at her to correct her mistakes. The stress of his verbal tirades forced her into more mistakes, until he summoned her into his office and made her bend over his desk, and while she read out her mistakes, he spanked her. This continued on for a while. Eventually the lawyer asked her to pull up her pantyhose before masturbating on her bare bottom.

Returning home, Debby felt unable to leave her bed, and did not return to work the next day. Eventually she received a check for her remaining pay, plus two hundred dollars, and a note from the lawyer apologizing for his actions. Realizing that she now had enough money to put down a payment for an apartment, Debby found some relief in the aftermath of her previous job. While still lounging around the house, Debby received a phone call from a reporter, who wanted her to come forward and talk about her experiences working for the lawyer, who was now running for mayor in Westland, a town outside Detroit. Despite the opportunity for revenge, Debby hung up and became enveloped in a feeling of disassociation.

"Other Factors":

Constance met with her friend Franklin two years after he spent a week trying to seduce her. Despite that memory, she kept an open mind about her meeting with Franklin. At the meeting, he asked after her career and mentioned Alice and Roger, mutual friends with whom Constance once was close. They had since had a falling out. Franklin then invited her to a party that he expected Alice and Roger to attend. Grudgingly, Constance accepted his invitation. Returning home, Constance tells her current girlfriend, Deana, about her friendship with Alice, which she said ended in betrayal. While Deana initially listened to Constance reassuringly, Deana finally admitted that Constance had a habit of pushing her vulnerabilities on people, which could be the reason why Alice was no longer friends with her. While under nitrous dioxide during a dental procedure, Constance had a surreal evaluation of her life and the different circles in it, thinking about her career and where she had progressed in her life. After the procedure, she returned to her job as a part-time editor, where she was frustrated because she could not pursue her vision.

Later that night, Constance attended Franklin's party without Deana, who went to dinner with her mother. At the party, Constance was constantly looking for Alice, trying to avoid her while also mingling with strangers that Franklin introduced her to. Eventually she ran into Alice, and the two began to catch up. Despite the considerable length of time since they last spoke and a lingering sense of awkwardness between them, Constance and Alice struck up a conversation immediately, asking after each other. Constance asked about Alice's marriage with Roger, which she revealed was teetering on implosion, as Roger was seeing other people and she was looking to do the same. They began to loosen up around each other but Alice was called away. Constance made to leave and was asked by Alice to wait for her. When Constance decided to go home anyway, Alice gave Constance her business card and asked that she call. While outside, Constance thought about throwing away the card, but held on, thinking she might want to reach out to Alice at some point.


Virginia, who had moved with her family from Florida to New Jersey, remembered the time spent with her children—named Charles, Daniel, Camille, Magdalen—and her husband, Jarold. Years later, Charles died. As she grew up, Magdalen became a difficult child, using her charm and way with Jarold to get away with things. However, once Jarold began to put his foot down, Magdalen ran away. Jarold was devastated. Virginia's sister Anne was having similar problems with her daughter, Lily. Without consulting Jarold, Virginia agreed to take the child in. Jarold, upset when he found out, behaved meanly and abusively to Lily at every opportunity. Virginia saw similarities between Lily and Magdalen, and tried to stay close to Lily, hoping the problem would not exacerbate. But Lily engaged in the same behavior that Magdalen did. She missed school and did drugs. Eventually, Jarold sent her back home. But she never went home and flew to Canada instead.

Meanwhile, Virginia observed the growth of her own children. Charles and Daniel grew into typical boys with sweet spots but occasional streaks of cruel behavior. Camille went to Harvard Law School and got married to her college boyfriend, Kevin, and together they moved to New York City. Magdalen met a lawyer from South Carolina named John. Camille called Virginia to tell her that Kevin was forcing her to get an abortion since he did not want to have a child. While visiting Magdalen, Camille had also noticed John's abusive behavior towards her sister and mentioned this to Virginia. Meanwhile, Daniel went off to engineering school, while Charles fought with Jarold over the fact that he did not want to attend college. Instead, Charles moved to Manhattan and found a job in a record store. Eventually, the situation between Magdalen and John got out of hand and she returned to New Jersey with her son. There, she got a job in a flower shop and secured her own apartment, with Virginia helping her to raise her son. Camille divorced from Kevin and moved out, looking forward to the future of her career and pursuit of family. One morning, Virginia received a phone call that Charles had died while driving from Upstate New York intoxicated. In the aftermath, Anne visited to help restore Virginia's spirits, mentioning that Lily had settled down and had fond memories of her time in New Jersey. Jarold, Virginia, and Anne sat around a barbecue, appreciating their life remaining and their abilities to find comfort in whatever beauty still remained.

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