Like the best of the recent elegies to the 1980s (notably Alan Hollinghurst’s 2004 The Line of Beauty), Veronica captures the nexus between the era’s erotic glamour and its epic heartlessness. As she scrubs toilets for a living, narrator Alison — broke, middle-aged, and sick with hepatitis C — reflects on her misspent youth as a model in Manhattan. Hungry for ”life and sex and cruelty,” she forged an unlikely alliance with Veronica, a caustic older woman with a bisexual lover and, later, AIDS. ”I was healthy and beautiful, and I thought I was so great for being friends with somebody who was ugly and sick,” Alison reflects, merciless in her judgments of her vain younger self. Rightly so. Don’t read this book for its disjointed plot, but for Mary Gaitskill’s sensuous yet precise language and her tough portrait of a bygone age.