Sunday, November 23, 2014

Astonish Me

by Maggie Shipstead
Oct 21-Nov 5, 2014

Étonnez-moi. Ever since I was a kid I had dreams of becoming a dancer. I took lessons from about 9 years old all the way through college. Not that I ever had a chance at becoming truly good. For one, I started way too late. Then the most obvious. I simply do not have a dancer's body. And maybe that's why I never even went en pointe. Why ruin my feet if I have no real future? But I can always dream. And books like this take me right into that fantasy world where I am a famous ballerina.

I loved every single word of this book. I loved the way the story was setup: chapters flashed back to a much different past than the chapters told in current time. I loved the way Shipstead was able to paint such a vivid picture of the world of ballet. Lots of drama without being overly dramatic. Just the way the world of ballet was – and is. Even with the approach of the dramatic reveal (which I only sort of saw coming), I was never left feeling it was over the top.

Joan is an adequate dancer who knows there are many others much better than herself. She falls for a famous Russian dancer and helps him defect to America. This story is inspired by the defection of Mikhail Baryshnikov in 1974, and brings to life all the great dance movies from that era (The Turning Point, All that Jazz, White Nights, A Chorus Line...some of my favorites). But when their relationship falls flat, Joan "settles" for a childhood friend who has always carried the torch for her. She becomes pregnant, they marry, and her life takes its intended course. But once her son shows signs of true talent, Joan is thrust back into the world of ballet and is forced to face the demons she thought she left behind.

“She realizes that the beauty radiating from him is what she has been chasing all along, what she has been trying to wring out of her own inadequate body.” She can’t help telling him, “Tu m’étonnes.”

I can't say enough good about this book. Such an unexpected delight. It was so great to read about performances and the lives of professional ballet dancers. Definitely one of the best books I read this year.

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