Of Human Bonds
Mary Gaitskill's new novel sheds light on the complexities of caregiving
by Mary Gaitskill
$26.95 List Price
In immediately palpable ways, Mary Gaitskill’s new novel, The Mare, feels far away from the risqué terrain she’s famous for illuminating. There’s no arrogant john pushing a teenage girl’s mouth onto his dick in a cramped car, no lawyer bending his secretary over his desk to spank her for typos, no model’s apartment in Paris with marzipan in the pantry and clap shots in the fridge. At first glance, The Mare seems to have traded the sordid for the bucolic, abandoned Bosch for Rockwell: We get bike rides down country roads, horses galloping across open fields, county fairs full of festive pastel tents, neatly quartered ham-and-cheese sandwiches made “with tomatoes for health.” The narrative charts the relationship between Velvet, an eleven-year-old Dominican-American girl from Brooklyn, and Ginger, the middle-aged white artist who gets involved in her life through the Fresh Air Fund, a nonprofit that sends underprivileged kids to spend summers with more “privileged” hosts. The brochure version of their bond emerges as “a blur of summer sights and smells . . . the manure of the horse barn, barbecue sauce, the roller coaster at the Dutchess County Fair, her hair in my mouth . . . the pink and yellow shacks of the flimsy fairway.”
But Gaitskill quickly troubles that blur. The bond that forms between Velvet and Ginger is not the stuff of after-school specials; it reckons powerfully with the tension generated by a caregiving relationship that isn’t supported by convention or biology. In its fidelity to the fraught architecture of intimacy—its belief that pain and attachment are
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