Book Review: The Mare by Mary Gaitskill

The MareThe Mare by Mary Gaitskill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my last great book of 2015, and boy did it knock my socks off! It’s got everything I love: flawed, fascinating characters, complex parent/child relationships, class conflict, great writing. This is a story of an upper middle class couple who decide to take in a Fresh Air Fund kid from Brooklyn for the summer. (Full disclosure: my family did this once and it was the hardest thing we’ve ever done. I’d never do it again.) In the process, the girl meets an abused horse and becomes an accomplished rider. Sound like the plot to a Lifetime movie? THE MARE overturns every maudlin, cheap sentiment that this story could have produced. Ginger, the white, upstate wife, is needy, confused, and weak. Velvet, the kid, is tough, vulnerable, and manipulative. Her mother, Silvia, is the woman you love to hate: abusive, angry, irrational; hard-working, protective, worldly. As awful as she is, we never doubt that she loves her daughter with a fierceness that just may destroy them both. And the horse! Fugly Girl is a fully developed character in the story who symbolizes the way the humans might be able to overcome their pasts. The author looks like she herself could be Ginger, yet she does an astonishingly great job of capturing, without condescension, the dynamics of Velvet’s Crown Heights, Brooklyn neighborhood and her Dominican family. THE MARE is a character-driven novel in which everyone changes and grows, yet there is no fairy-tale ending (although the end is quite exciting and moving). Some may find the very short chapters and frequent point-of-view shifts distracting, but by the time I reached the end, I felt the author couldn’t have told the story in any other way. Highly recommended!

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