cover image The Mare

The Mare

Mary Gaitskill. Pantheon, $26.95 (448p) ISBN 978-0-307-37974-0

In this novel by National Book Award–finalist Gaitskill (Veronica), 11-year-old Dominican-American Velveteen “Velvet” Vargas from Crown Heights in Brooklyn is invited to spend a few weeks with a white couple in upstate New York as part of the Fresh Air Fund sponsorship program. The demure and self-possessed girl is skeptical of the situation at first, but as she continues to visit over the next three years, she develops a relationship with Ginger—an ex-addict and amateur artist—and Ginger’s professor husband, Paul, as well as with the horses at a nearby stable. True to form, as Velvet learns to trust her instinct and develops a talent for riding a feisty horse she renames Fiery Girl, her confidence soars. But problems arise when Velvet hits puberty and discovers boys: Velvet’s single mother, fierce and prone to violence, refuses to allow Velvet to ride and repeatedly calls her worthless, while Ginger goes off the rails dealing with her own insecurities. Gaitskill is renowned for her edgy writing, but the book—narrated by different characters—treads into stereotype. More nuanced portrayals might have made Velvet’s bumpy growth into an independent young woman more palatable. (Nov.)