Friday, January 8, 2016

The Mare by Mary Gaitskill

The Mare is not what I was expecting from its ingredients: a woman, a girl and a horse. Mary Gaitskill is a master storyteller and that is what makes all the difference. The woman is Ginger, an Anglo artist and alcoholic, living in rural upstate New York. The girl is 11-year-old Velveteen, whose Dominican mother struggles to support her two children in Brooklyn. The horse is Fugly Girl--abused, untrustworthy, and boarded in a second-rate stable.

The narrative alternates between Ginger and Velvet, with occasional chapters in the voice of Ginger's husband Paul or Velvet's mother Silvia. Each voice is distinctive and each chapter is short, sometimes just half a page, so the pace is quick.

Ginger and Paul host Velvet for a couple of weeks one summer as part of a charity program to get inner-city kids into the countryside. At a nearby stable, Velvet discovers her affinity for horses. Ginger and Velvet develop a bond that extends past the length of the program and so Velvet continues to visit.

I was never certain where this novel was headed. Explosive scenarios are real possibilities because these characters are all negotiating emotional minefields. I'm not giving away any spoilers, so I'll just say that this book is fantastic. Don't worry if horses aren't your thing, because that is only nominally what this is about. Don't miss it!

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