Audiobook Review - The Mare by Mary Gaitskill @BlackstoneAudio

The Mare by Mary Gaitskill
Narrated by:  Kyla Garcia, Christa Lewis, Sean Pratt, and Nicol Zanzarella
Blackstone Audiobooks
Publication Date: November 3, 2015
Date Read: December 29, 2015
Length:  14 hours 41 minutes

From the author of "Veronica, "a finalist for the National Book Award for fiction, comes Mary Gaitskill s most poignant and powerful work yet: the story of a Dominican girl, the white woman who introduces her to riding, and the horse who changes everything for her.

Velveteen Vargas is an eleven-year-old from Brooklyn who is granted a summer vacation in the country, courtesy of the nonprofit Fresh Air Fund. Her host family is a couple in upstate New York: Ginger, a failed artist on the fringe of Alcoholics Anonymous, and Paul, an academic who wonders what it will mean to make a difference in such a contrived situation. Here we see the couple s changing relationship with Velvet over the course of several years, as well as Velvet s powerful encounter with the horses at the stable down the road, as Gaitskill weaves together Velvet s vital inner-city community and the privileged country world of Ginger and Paul.

The timeless story of a girl and a horse is joined with the story of people from different races and socioeconomic backgrounds trying to meet one another honestly. It is a novel that is raw, striking, and completely original.

I didn't really know much about this story before I decided to give it a try.  I think I really wanted to get lost in a story that was focused on a horse.  I did end up getting completely pulled into this story but I quickly found out that this story really isn't about a horse.  Sure, there is a horse in the story but this is really a story about a group of people tied to one another just trying to get through life.  This book was very different that I thought it would be but it ended up taking me on a fantastic journey.

This story is told from four different points of view.  For Velvet, this book really is a coming of age story.  Velvet starts the story as an eleven-year-old Dominican girl from a poor family.  She goes to stay with a family for a couple of weeks in the summer as part of the Fresh Air fund.  Ginger also learns a lot about herself during the course of the story.  She is a recovering alcoholic who has never had children but decides to be a host family for the program.  Paul goes through a lot of changes during the story.  He is a professor and sometimes is a little more hesitant to be so involved with Velvet so much as compared to his wife.  The fourth point of view comes from Velvet's mother who is a single mother trying to support her two children alone in a country where she is not able to speak the language.   Velvet's mom is difficult to like but by the end of the story I felt that I understood her even if I didn't agree with how she chose to do things.

This book is beautiful in many ways and heartbreaking in others.  I found at the beginning of the story that I really liked the parts of the book told by Velvet.  I wanted hear her thoughts about riding horses and her attraction to that one special horse, Fiery girl.  As I learned more about Velvet's life at home in the city, I found myself wanting to cheer her on and encourage her.  Ginger took a while to grow on me but the more that I understood her the more I found myself able to understand why she was so determined to be a part of Velvet's life.  She really did care about the girl and the connection between them felt very real to me.  I loved the horses in the story and all of the people at the stable.  Velvet's connection to the animals and the pride she had in riding them was beautifully written.

The four narrators of the audiobook did an amazing job.  Each voice was very distinctive and really brought the characters to life.  If I had been reading a paper copy of this book, these four voices would have been exactly as I would have imagined the characters to sound.  The emotions of each of the characters really came through in the narration.  Velvet and her mother both were very animated and their feelings were usually on the surface.  Ginger and Paul were more guarded and the narrators did a wonderful job of expressing that aspect of their personality.  I think that the four narrators really worked well when everything came together in the book.  I really think that they all did an equally wonderful job and liked all of their styles.  I never had a favorite of the group or one I didn't want to hear.  I actually think that the alternating narrators really helped the different viewpoints work well in this audiobook.

I really enjoyed this story.  All of the things that Velvet, her mother, Ginger, and Paul go through during the span of the story really kept my interest level high.  I never felt like the story lagged at any point.  The pacing was well done with parts of the book devoted to character development and others sections that moved the plot forward.  There were more than a few parts of the book that made me cringe but I think that those parts really helped make the story feel more realistic.  This is a book that really gets its strength from its characters.  The characters in the book are all very flawed and seem very lifelike to me.

I would highly recommend this audiobook to others.  I think that I got more out of the story by going the audio route because the narrators really did a superb job.  This is the first book by Mary Gaitskill that I have read and I plan to look for her works in the future. 

I received a review copy of this book from Blackstone Audio via Audiobook Jukebox for the purpose of providing an honest review.

About the Author

Mary Gaitskill is the author of the novel Veronica, a finalist for the 2005 National Book Award and named one of the New York Times’ Ten Best Books of 2005. She is also the author of a short-story collection and the acclaimed novels Because They Wanted To and Two Girls, Fat and Thin. Her stories and essays have appeared in the New Yorker, Harper’s, Esquire, The Best American Short Stories (1993), and The O. Henry Prize Stories (1998). Her short story “Secretary” was the basis for the film of the same name.


  1. Great review! I have been seeing this one in newsletters and on Goodreads. I may have to grab this as soon as it becomes available at my library.

    1. I really did enjoy it. If you get a chance to listen to the audiobook, I think that the narration really added to the story.

  2. This sounds interesting and unique. I like when we really get to see characters really grown and develop in a book. I'm not sure I would've picked this one up on my own but I'll definitely have to look for it now. Great review!

    1. Thanks, Katherine! I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed this story. The narration was really well done and I found myself looking forward to my walks so that I could listen to just a little more of the story. I highly recommend the audibook if you can find it.

  3. The Mare sounds like a beautiful story, Carole! I haven't read many stories featuring horses lately, and the fact that there are four different points of views, from characters of different ages and situations make me really want to read (or listen to!) it as well.
    Great review.
    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

    1. Each of the characters were well done in this story. There were really so many different things going on but I really found it enjoyable. I do think that the audio added a lot to this one.

  4. Not sure this one's for me but I'm glad you enjoyed it :)
    Danielle @ Life With Two Boys

    1. This is not a story for everyone but I really liked it. I do think that it will have some appeal for a lot of people. Thanks for stopping by!


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