Mary Gaitskill read from her latest novel, “The Mare,” on Oct. 27 for the Evening Reading Series at the LeFrak Concert Hall, hosted by Leonard Lopate.
Gaitskill previously wrote books like “Bad Behavior” and “Because They Wanted To.” Her novel “Veronica” was a National Book Award finalist. In addition, a short story in “Bad Behavior” titled “Secretary” became a movie of the same name and starred actors Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader.
“The Mare” is about Velveteen Vargas, an 11-year-old Dominican girl, who is staying with a host family in upstate New York.
Velveteen, also known as Velvet, is a Fresh Air Fund kid from Brooklyn. Fresh Air Fund is an organization sending inner-city kids to host families to experience country life for free.
Velvet stays with Ginger, a failed artist and recovering alcoholic, and her husband Paul, an academic wondering what it means to make a difference.
The story compares Velvet’s life back in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and Ginger and Paul’s life upstate.
The book also focuses on Velvet’s relationship with a horse named Fugly Girl, renamed Fiery Girl. The horse was previously abused and is unruly, just like Velvet.
The story highlights relationships and second chances for damaged people like Ginger, Velvet and the horse are in their own ways.
The event began with Joseph Cuomo, the founding director of the Evening Readings, giving a synopsis of the novel at the podium and then introduced Gaitskill to the stage.
Gaitskill, wearing grey ensemble and beautiful vintage glasses, read a passage from “The Mare” in the voice of Ginger.
Gaitskill said the novel was partly inspired by a snippet of “National Velvet,” a book by Enid Bagnold later turning into a movie.
“A long time ago back in 2007, I was teaching and I was living in a boarding house, I got up and I saw, on my boarding lady’s TV in the morning, a film clip of ‘National Velvet,’ which I had never seen before,” Gaitskill said. “It was really beautiful seeing Liz Taylor riding across the Technicolor meadow and thought that someone should write a story like that.”
Gaitskill initially dismissed the idea, but later decided to turn into a book.
“I started writing it in 2009, two years after the initial thought came into my head, because I thought it was too corny,” Gaitskill said. “I would be at the grocery store or airport and scenes would just fill my head of images and dialogue from this story. That’s never happened to me before so I thought I should at least try this.”
Lopate said the novel is not a preachy, sentimental book despite the rich and poor interacting as well as racial differences. Gaitskill agreed and elaborated on the problems with sentimental books.
“It was a major concern to avoid that, but I felt whatever I did could be seen as sentimental. I think people overreact to what they consider sentimental now. Modern writers and readers are aware of the horror of sentimentality and they confuse actual feelings with sentimentality. Sentimental means it is fake,” Gaitskill said.
Gaitskill said she did not connect to horses like Velvet did in the novel.
“Some girls have a special relationship with horses, I never did, I always thought they were weird and frightening,” Gaitskill said. “I had to learn how to ride in order to write the book, otherwise I wouldn’t really know how to describe it, and it’s one of those things you can’t really describe.”
After the interview, Gaitskill read another passage from the novel, but in Velvet’s voice. “The Mare” is set for release on Nov. 3, but copies were on sale at the Evening Reading.
The next Evening Reading is Nov. 10 with Joyce Carol Oates. Admission to the event is $20, but free for those with a CUNY student ID.
For more information on the Evening Readings series, visit www.qcreadings.org.