Book Review

November '15

The Mare (Hardcover)
Mary Gaitskill


I read the first 400 pages of this new (11/3/15) book in one 5 hour stretch - I could not put it down, and then saved the last 34 pages for the next day, because I did not want it to end!

Well-meaning Ginger and her reluctant husband Paul, a childless white couple who live in upstate New York, volunteer to host an underprivileged child from Brooklyn for a few weeks in the summer as a way to "do some good."  Into their home walks Velvet Vargas, the part Dominican daughter of an angry single mother who constantly berates Velvet and favors her brother.  Velvet lives in a rough neighborhood, attends a tough school, and is having a hard time with adolescence. 

Velvet's awkwardness with Ginger and Paul quickly melts away when she enters the horse barn next door.  She loves the horses, and seems to hear them speaking to her.  Learning to clean, groom and muck stalls gives Velvet purpose and work, and an opporunity 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 visits are a good idea. 

Of course 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 Velvet's prgress with riding has to be kept secret.

The story is very well told, with 1-2 page chapters labeled with the narrator's name, making the reading addictive.

I highly recommend The Mare, and will be discussing it with my book clubs.