Friday, February 24, 2023

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead


Joan is a ballet dancer but she knows she will never be the best.  She is in the corps in the New York ballet and that is probably the height of what she will accomplish.  But dance is all she knows; she focused on it as a young girl and has spent her whole life striving for perfection.  It has given her joy; she has been all over with the troupe and has spent a year in Paris dancing there.  While in Paris, she met and had a brief affair with the Russian superstar, Arslan Rusakov, who has been loaned by his government to the Paris ballet for a short appearance.

Later, Joan is astonished to be contacted by Arslan.  He has decided to defect and has chosen Joan to help him.  She drives to Canada where he is dancing and spirits him away to New York.  The two live together for a while but Arslan is determined to discover everything the freedom in America gives him and that includes other women.  Joan is heartbroken and turns to Jacob, the boy from high school who was her best friend and who has always loved her.  When she gets pregnant, she marries Jacob and leaves the dance world.

The couple move to the Southwest.  Jacob is in education and identifies gifted children.  They meet the neighbors and their son, Harry, and the couple's daughter, Chloe, become best friends.  They both start to dance and become obsessed with it, but Harry is much better than Chloe.  When he goes to New York on a summer intensive, Harry falls under Arslan's spell and soon becomes a soloist with the troupe.  

This is a novel that every woman who ever danced as a girl can relate to.  It is full of that striving for perfection, that obsession with making one's body do what seems impossible.  It is also full of loves and betrayals, friendships and shunning.  Maggie Shipstead writes strong female characters and her women are determined to live life on their own terms and love wherever it takes them.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.  

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