Friday, September 25, 2015

The Mare, by Mary Gaitskill

Pantheon, ISBN 97803073, November 2015

Velveteen Vargas is eleven years old and living with her mother, Sylvia, and brother, Dante, in Crown Heights, New York. Her mother is from the Dominican Republic, and still only speaks Spanish, but Velvet and Dante were born here.

Sylvia signs her children up for a program that will send them out of the city for two weeks, By the rules of the  program, the siblings go to different families in different locations.

Velvet goes to Ginger and Paul, in upstate New York. Ginger and Paul live across from a stable, and Velvet meets a horse called Fugly Girl, whom one of the trainers, Pat, rescued from a life of abuse. She winds up staying with her hosts for a full month, and it's the start of a long relationship.
Over the next several years, Velvet grows up in Crown Heights, experiencing a tough, inner city adolescence. She's not a popular kid in school. Her mother is fiercely determined to protect her, but has no idea how to express love and affection for her. Her friends are on and off and unreliable; one friend is shot dead because he just happens  to be in the wrong place when a gang dispute he's not a part of blows up.

And she grows up upstate, spending summers and some weekends during the school year with Ginger and Paul, trading work for riding lessons and befriending Fugly Girl.

Her two lives are on a collision course.

Velvet's inner life is beautifully portrayed, and will connect with anyone who has had a tough time communicating with parents when you don't understand each other's issues, or been horse-obsessed in adolescence. Or, as for many of us, both. We also get shorter glimpses of the inner lives of Sylvia, Ginger, and Paul, and the stories are woven together beautifully.

This is a lovely and moving story. Recommended.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via First to Read.

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