Friday, November 13, 2015

The Mare; Mary Gaitskill

The Mare; Mary Gaitskill
Pantheon - Nov 2015

The Mare was a heart rendering story about a young girl from the Dominican Republic now living in poverty in Crown Heights, New York.

Velveteen (Velvet) Vargas is the 11-year old girl at the heart of the story. Velvet lives with her mother and her 6 year-old brother.  Her mother, Silvia,  speaks no English and works long hours to put a roof over their head and food on the table, but still the family lives in poverty.  She is short on patience, favors her son Dante, and is sometimes verbally and physically abusive to Velvet. Deep down she cares for her daughter but does not know how to express her feelings.

When Velvet and her brother get a chance to leave the city for a few weeks in the  country over the summer, thanks to the Fresh Air Fund, their mother reluctantly agrees to let them go.  Velvet's host family is Ginger, an artist and recovering alcoholic and her husband, Paul, a professor.  Ginger is 47,  and Paul 57, and  Ginger longs to see what mothierng a child would be like. 

Velvet finds solace staying with the couple and is able to make inroads  with an abused, ornery, "mare" others at the stable call Fugly Girl.  Velvet renames her Fiery Girl which she feels better describes her spirit.  When Velvet first sees the scars on the mare's face, she describes the scars as, "the thorns on Jesus' heart." And, when Velvet cried in the presence of the horse, the anxious "mare" quieted as if she understood Velvet's personal pain.

The chapters alternate between the POV of mostly Velvet and Ginger, although there are occasional short chapters from the POV of Paul and Velvet's mother as well.  The story is tender, but never depressing or preachy.  It's a very readable story about the importance of finding a living, breathing connection to make the sad past feel less sad, and not losing hope.  The characters felt genuine, and although I really enjoyed the novel, I thought it was a bit too long, but definitely worth reading.

4.5/5 stars
(review copy)


  1. Sounds every emotional, is it historical or present time?

  2. I've been hearing really good things about this one - you're the first blogger I've seen to review it. I might end up adding it to my TBR.

    1. I've been looking for blogger reviews but haven't seen any. Hope you try it Sarah.

  3. We hadn't heard of that one, but it does sound good!

  4. I loved the writing in one of her earlier novels... think I'll add this to my list (After I look up how long it is! I'm in chunkster overload at the moment.)

  5. It's about 400 pages JoAnn - goes fast though short chapters.


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