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The Mare by Mary Gaitskill

the mareWow!

I read the first 400 pages of The Mare in one five hour stretch – I could not put this novel down. But then I took an hour to read the final three dozen pages because I did not want the book to end.

Well-meaning Ginger and her husband Paul are a childless white couple who live in upstate New York. The pair volunteers to host an underprivileged child from Brooklyn for a few weeks in the summer as a way to “do some good.” Into their lives walks Velvet, the part Dominican daughter of an angry single mother who constantly berates the girl, and favors her brother.

Velvet lives in a bad neighborhood, attends a tough school, and has a hard time with adolescence. She at first is ill at ease with Ginger and Paul, but her awkwardness melts away when she enters the horse barn next door. She loves the horses and she seems to hear them speaking to her. Learning to clean, groom, and muck stalls gives Velvet a sense of purpose as well as an opportunity to learn to ride – which she does well.

Returning home, Velvet does better in school, is more appropriate in her behavior, and agrees with Ginger that more frequent upstate visits are a good idea. But things get complicated as Ginger sees Velvet, to some extent, as the child she never had. Velvet’s mother, called “Mrs. Vargas” for the bulk of the book, resents Ginger for giving Velvet opportunities she cannot afford. Velvet’s mother is also deathly afraid of horses, so the young girl’s progress with riding has to be kept secret. The relationship between this triangle of women is constantly off balance.

The story addictive; it is very well told, with one- to two- page chapters labeled with the narrator’s name. I highly recommend this novel and I will be discussing it with my book clubs. 

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