The Mare by Mary Gaitskill c. (441 pages—Pantheon)

“The Mare” is told chronologically from multiple (first-person) perspectives, a structure which drives the narrative. The main protagonist, Velvet, is a mixed-race girl from a tough neighborhood in New York who forms a deep, yet complicated, relationship with a childless white woman named Ginger. At Ginger’s house, Velvet learns how to ride horses and forms an emotional attachment to an abused mare—“Fiery Girl” (renamed from “Fugly Girl” by Velvet). The renaming of this horse is significant, as all characters are attempting to heal and remake themselves by overcoming past trauma.

Sentences Worth Studying

  • “For a second, everything was hard and clear and pounding beautiful” (6).
  • “The singer’s voice is thin and fake, but it’s pretty, and somewhere in the fakery is the true sadness of smallness and failure and believing in things that aren’t real because that’s the only way to get through” (11).
  • “At night Paul and I would both sit on her bed and read to her and her eyes would go from alert to enchanted to blurred, sweet and private as she slowly stepped down to sleep” (45).
  • “I saved that moment. I did the right thing. I was the adult. But I never knew from one moment to the next if I was or not. Being this kind of adult was like driving a car without brakes at night around hairpin turns. My body tensed and relaxed constantly. I was always nearly ruining dinner or forgetting to pick something up. I couldn’t sleep. I wanted to drink—really wanted to, for the first time in years. Was this what parenting was like 24/7? My God, how did anyone do it? How did her mother do it, in a foreign country, in a bad neighborhood where she didn’t speak the language?” (62).
  • “It was barely light when I woke up the next day. I didn’t wait; I got dressed and walked over. There was mist in the air and it was soft, and the sky was soft too, but with bright clouds. There was so much space, and green too, green and green” (116).
  • “That night I dreamed of horses running together like they were water with a brain that could decide where to go. Except you could see their faces and their feet and tails coming out and then going back into the water of themselves” (148).
  • “The woman had a powerful body, a hard, blunt voice, and an insane Her eyes were simple mentally, but emotionally snarled, aggressive and shrewd . . .” (169).
  • “[B]eing on the mare happened on another planet, somewhere beautiful but with outer space all around it. I couldn’t even tell it to anybody. I was locked away from everybody. I couldn’t even beat on the door because there was no door” (185).
  • “And on that horse I saw the world: sky, trees, buildings, streets going in different directions. My life going in different directions” (189).
  • “I remembered his eyes when he was holding Brianna and looking at me over his shoulder, sharp like the arrow in the valentine, sharp in my heart, my real heart, like in the science chart of your body, the heart-muscle in the dark of my body. Soft/sharp. Love” (259).
  • “They were all younger than Velvet, much younger, with quick, animated faces, confident that they belonged and were loved above all, and they flashed around Velvet like she was a rock while right in front of me she became one. My heart sank” (277).
  • “It was so gentle, like something young springing from inside age, smiling and sweet like I was never able to be in middle school, or high school, or when I knew this man nearly two decades ago; in that foolish moment, the hard glass of my girlhood became flesh as if for the first time” (296).
  • “I went into Penn Station to get a hot chocolate and walked around drinking it. I stared at the jumbled food nooks and windows filled with cheap shit: crazy-print panty hose, boxes of chenille gloves and hats, teddy bears, glass roses, Empire State knickknacks, magazines crammed with exhausting opinions and worthless pictures it cost thousands of dollars to take. Pretzels. Pizza. Squashed sandwiches and big, biliously iced cookies. Lights buzzing, music pumping, people yelling orders and wiping surfaces; so much honest effort put into so much ugliness, everyone worn out by it but still doing their job to push it out the chute. All of it probably overrun by rats at night. A crazy guy pointed at me and laughed” (307).
  • “The train came in screaming. We go on it pushing. Huge tired people pushed in between me and my family and I faced the flying tunnel out the back door of the last car, hiding my hit face” (317).
  • Cheating. Of course I know why they call it that. I hate it, but I know. So much of what happens between people is comparable to a game. There is a deep, soft core that everyone longs for, too deep for games or even words. But to get to that, you have to play and play well. Art, society, relationships, simple conversation—I couldn’t understand how to do any of it. I don’t know what was wrong with me. I tried, and when I was young and good-looking it could at least seem like my failure was actually an interesting artistic version of some special game” (360).
  • “It’s dead now, my adolescent longing, and even so I can’t help but press it against my cheek one more time, hoping to bring it alive again” (381).
  • “For a strange and active moment I felt my house close around me—water pipes and wires and slow-speaking wood with insects living in it, wallpaper and rugs and furniture, emotions and odors, the air beating with thoughts—all of it, all of me so far away from the girl on the other end of the phone, even though she had slept and ate and cried here” (396).
  • “She didn’t cry. But I could feel the pain beating inside her body like it was too big to get out without breaking her. It made me hold her tighter, and she hardened against my grip” (409).

About Kelsey Maki

writer and English professor
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