This is what’s so brave about The Mare—the way it does believe in the mess of connection, and does attempt its ragged portrait, rather than simply outlining the crystalline loneliness of disconnection. It dares us to find it sentimental—squatting inside the prefab frame of an easy redemption story—but ultimately resists sentimentality with a powerful insistence on the vexed complexities of sentiment.
[Gaitskill] keeps clear of the self-justifying temptations of fiction embedded with memoir by structuring The Mare as a series of short chapters delivered in the first person, slicing deftly among her characters’ various points of view. Paul and Silvia have a say, but the leading roles are Ginger’s and Velvet’s—a risky strategy, since it requires a kid’s voice that can match an adult’s in lifelike tone and psychological depth. Velvet, fortunately, is that most wonderful of fictional creations: a convincing child who manages to be a captivating and perceptive narrator.
The story, a near retelling of National Velvet, wears its heart on its sleeve, a quality that’s aroused surprised applause and a few sneers ... In The Mare, the author burdens her characters with the thorniest and most political obstacles to lasting love: race, class, culture ... Love in The Mare is more constant and accessible than in Gaitskill’s previous work, and characters are more vocal about their affections, but the lens trained on it is no kinder ... To be a reader of Gaitskill and, perhaps, a balanced human, you agree to tolerate simultaneous realities.