Tuesday, December 29, 2015
The Mare by Mary Gaitskill
Mary Gaitskill has numerous nominations for book awards, including the Pen/Faulkner and the National Book award. Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Esquire, and The best American Short Stories in 1993, 2006, and 2012. She also won an O. Henry Prize in 1998. Her novels involve emotional relationships and family tragedies. These poignant stories never fail to touch the heart. Her latest novel, The Mare, is a lovely story of a woman who has suffered a loss, but finds comfort in hosting a young, inner city girl who manages to bond with a dangerous horse. Ginger, the woman, Velvet, the young girl, and Fugly Girl, the horse, all suffered abuse. The story is told in parts by all the main characters, each of whom narrates their own chapters.
Ginger and her husband agree to accept Velvet for a two-week sting in upstate New York through the “Fresh Air Fund” sponsored by The New York Times. In a chapter narrated by Velvet, she describes their first meeting. “They said they were Ginger and Paul. They took me to their car. We drove past lots of houses with flowers and bushes in front of them. In the city, when the sky is bright, it makes everything harder on their edges; here everything was soft and shiny, too, like a picture book of Easter eggs and rabbits I read in the third grade when I was sick on the nurse’s station cot. I loved that book so much I stole it from the nurse’s station, and the next time I was sick, I took it out and looked at it, and it made me feel better even though by then I was too old for it. I don’t have it anymore; probably my mom threw it out when we moved” (20). This stark contrast between Crown Heights in Brooklyn and rural New York is a thread which wends its way through the entire novel.
Ginger is in successful recovery from alcoholism when she met Paul. They soon married and decided to have a child. Gaitskill writes, “I didn’t get pregnant. Instead my sister Melinda died. I know the two things do not go together. But in my mind they do. My sister lived in Cleveland, Ohio. She had been sick a long time; she had so many things wrong with her that nobody wanted to think about her, including me. She was drunk and mean and crazy and would call saying [obscenities] in the middle of the night” (10). This might appear to be depressing and morbid, but the silver lining of the relationship between Ginger and Velvet rose to a level of poignancy rarely encountered.
Fugly Girl suffered from the same type of verbal abuse as Velvet does from her mother. The girl and the dangerous horse developed an emotional attachment. On their third encounter Gaitskill writes, “I came home early and went to talk to Fugly Girl. Pat [the stable owner] pretended not to see me leaning right up against the door of her stall. The horse came to me and stretched her head out like she wanted some apple, but when she saw I didn’t have anything, she stayed still and licked her stall, like thoughtfully. I asked her if I could touch her nose for courage. She looked down, Oh, all right – and flared it open; quickly I kissed it” (48). That scene, that small victory of acceptance, was, probably the first shining moment in that twelve-year-olds dark life.
Mary Gaitskill has written a novel of emotions we all face: acceptance and rejection, love and hate, tenderness and depravity. Even Ginger faces emotionally damaging incidents from her past. IN the end, The Mare is a novel of love and bonding and overcoming obstacles to happiness. 5 stars