The Mare (★★★★☆)

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Mary Gaitskill  *  Pantheon  *  November 3, 2015  *  464 Pages

The Mare is a beautifully written coming of age novel. Velvet is a tweenager living in Brooklyn and struggling to find her place. Her home life is rocky; her mother dotes on her little brother while constantly criticizing Velvet. Velvet endures a lot of verbal and physical abuse and is generally unhappy. So when she is offered the opportunity to visit an older couple living in the country as part of an inner-city youth reach out program, Velvet eagerly accepts. During her first two-week visit, Velvet’s hosts, Ginger and Paul, let her ride a horse, and Velvet’s world is basically changed forever. Despite her mother’s protests, Velvet repeatedly visits the farm to ride the horse. And while she begins to develop her riding skills and ends up feeling proud of herself (for the first time in her life), she also has to deal with the problems that arise when she attempts to exist in two very different worlds.

I agree with other reviewers that Gaitskill’s writing is phenomenal. The story she has created is very engaging. I loved watching events unfold from the point of views of each main character. This multi-POV approach isn’t really unique anymore, but in Gaitskill’s hands, it still adds a lot of depth and feeling to the book. I ended up empathizing with just about every character here–though I was never able to dredge up much sympathy for Velvet’s mom. (I know she’s been through some things, but, yikes, what a piece of work…)

My only complaint is that the book is predictable at points. In fact, I would say that even within the first few pages, I had this feeling like I knew exactly where the story was going, almost like I had read it before. Gaitskill managed to surprise me a couple of times, but, for the most part, I knew what was coming next. I’m still not exactly sure why the story feels so familiar to me (maybe it’s as simple as I’ve read too many “a girl and her horse” stories?), but other readers may not feel the same.

Regardless, the book is written so well that I was willing to overlook a little bit of predictability. There is enough depth–to the story and to the characters–that I found The Mare to be a satisfying and engrossing read. I think this one is going to be a popular pick for book clubs.

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