Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey


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The book's synopsis from the publisher's website:

I threw my neck out in the middle of Swan Lake last night.

So begins the tale of Kate Crane, a soloist in a celebrated New York City ballet company who is struggling to keep her place in a very demanding world. At every turn she is haunted by her close relationship with her younger sister, Gwen, a fellow company dancer whose career quickly surpassed Kate’s, but who has recently suffered a breakdown and returned home.

Alone for the first time in her life, Kate is anxious and full of guilt about the role she may have played in her sister’s collapse.  As we follow her on an insider tour of rehearsals, performances, and partners onstage and off, she confronts the tangle of love, jealousy, pride, and obsession that are beginning to fracture her own sanity. Funny, dark, intimate, and unflinchingly honest,
The Cranes Dance is a book that pulls back the curtains to reveal the private lives of dancers and explores the complicated bond between sisters. 

I have never had anything to do with ballet. Not much with dancing even. Hence, The Cranes Dance should have been a novel outside my interests and not held my attention. But it did. As I knew it would, when I requested it. I believe ballet is just a springboard to dive from into a complicated relationship between sisters, a maybe even more complicated relationship with one's parents, and generally into how dangerous one's passion for something, anything, can become to that person.

In Meg Howrey's novel, that person is Kate Crane and she is one of the most interesting and endearing heroines I've met in the past few years. She is flawed, the years of her life dedicated to ballet having taken a major toll on her, and most importantly she's been struggling with living with, loving, caring for and competing with her younger sister all her life. I think I appreciated the sisterly love tinged with envy and competition the most. I am, like Kate, the older of the two sisters, and understood how such a relationship is never simple. We love our sisters to death but yes, we do struggle with more unwelcome emotions as well. I really liked that the author managed to deal with those without making Kate or her younger sister, Gwen out to be ungrateful, disturbed or dysfunctional siblings.

Yet another side of The Cranes Dance that makes this novel so appealing, is the beautiful writing. It's sharp, it's simple and when you think there's not much meaning to it, all of a sudden you discover there are layers of meaning in one sentence or a paragraph - I suppose that's what profound may be:

Keep making noise, I prayed, laughing. Bang drums. Clamor and ring bells for I cannot stand to hear the tired beating of this almost heart.

I am here. I am in the present tense. I'm not always here, and sometimes here is a very difficult place. Sometimes it is a labyrinth, or a Minotaur, or a rope I can neither let go of nor follow. It's hard to find the right words, but I guess I would say that it's something like feeling the floor. And that it is my privilege  to feel it.

It's just like the whole novel. The Cranes Dance is a story with many layers and many meanings. If you get to enjoy it like I did, chances are you'll want to read it more than once and with each reading, there'll be more to discover and appreciate. True, I did find the ending a bit too tidy for my personal tastes (maybe I'm a morbid kind of reader) and rather difficult to believe, but who knows, maybe when I read it the second time, I'll find that that too had something hidden I just didn't get the first time. 

FTC: I received an e-galley of The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey from Vintage Books, an imprint of Knopf Doubleday via NetGalley.