STARRED REVIEW
November 2015

Wild horses

By Mary Gaitskill
In lesser hands, the story told in Mary Gaitskill’s The Mare would be sentimental or even clichéd. An emotionally needy white woman takes in a tough inner-city girl whose life is transformed when she learns to ride horses at the neighboring stables. Cue the swelling music as the girl and horse ride into the sunset. But Gaitskill, whose novels and short stories have always delved full force into the most uncomfortable of situations, has instead produced a complex and nuanced look at love, loss and limitations.
Share this Article:

In lesser hands, the story told in Mary Gaitskill’s The Mare would be sentimental or even clichéd. An emotionally needy white woman takes in a tough inner-city girl whose life is transformed when she learns to ride horses at the neighboring stables. Cue the swelling music as the girl and horse ride into the sunset. But Gaitskill, whose novels and short stories have always delved full force into the most uncomfortable of situations, has instead produced a complex and nuanced look at love, loss and limitations. 

Ginger, an unsuccessful artist and former alcoholic, is mourning the death of her mentally ill sister and regretting her decision to remain childless. Ginger convinces her husband, Paul, to be a host family for the Fresh Air Fund, which allows inner-city kids to spend a few weeks in a rural environment. Twelve-year-old Velveteen Vargas from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, arrives at Ginger’s house in upstate New York, where they watch movies, read together and go for bike rides. The real transformation comes, however, when Velvet is introduced to the horses at the stable down the road. She proves to have a natural affinity for animals, especially one ornery mare, Fugly Girl.

The summer weeks turn into years, and the prickly connection between woman and girl grows into a bond that eventually encompasses Paul, Velvet’s mother and her little brother, Dante. Through shifting differences of status, income, ethnicities and needs, relationships are forged and, though the trust that is achieved may only be temporary, the two families are forever altered by the experience. 

Gaitskill and her former husband were a host family for the Fresh Air Fund, and she has explored some of this material in essays such as “Love Lessons” (2004) and “Lost Cat” (2009). The Mare splits the storytelling almost evenly between Ginger and Velvet, with Velvet’s mother and Paul occasionally offering their perspective. This division of the narrative provides a less one-sided look at the way both families are affected by Velvet’s choices. The Mare is a surprisingly tough, yet tender look at a delicate subject, told with fiery emotional honesty.

 

This article was originally published in the November 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Trending Reviews

Get the Book

The Mare

The Mare

By Mary Gaitskill
Pantheon
ISBN 9780307379740

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our enewsletters to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.

Sign Up

Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres!