Saturday, May 19, 2012

Book Review: "The Cranes Dance" by Meg Howrey

Kate Crane is a soloist in a famed New York ballet company. She's never quite achieved true fame, but she is well-respected and has the opportunity to dance many featured roles in a number of ballets. Her younger sister, Gwen, also a ballet dancer in the same company, quickly eclipsed Kate in terms of talent and stardom, but after injuring herself and suffering a bit of a breakdown, Gwen has returned to their childhood home in Michigan. Gwen's absence gives Kate the opportunity to dance outside of her sister's shadow, but it also leaves her alone with her own thoughts of guilt, for recognizing Gwen's symptoms long ago but not getting her the help she needed, as well as her own obsessions of perfection. "At some point you did something perfectly and now your whole life is a search to re-create that," Kate said at one point in the book.

The Cranes Dance follows Kate as she starts getting the chance to play a more prominent role in the ballet company as she struggles with an injury of her own, as well as questioning about her talent and her own mental toughness. Her relationships with her friends and mentors are fraught with unspoken tension caused by one issue or another, and she finds herself torn between wanting Gwen to recover and return to New York City, and not wanting to have to be her sister's keeper any longer. This book gives a warts-and-all glimpse into the ballet world, the different personalities that occupy it, and the passions that drive it. (Meg Howrey was once a professional dancer, so her authenticity rings true.)

I really enjoyed this book because it was more than just a story about a ballet company—it is a story about relationships, a story about battling your demons and coming to terms with your own strengths and weaknesses, and a story about how you can find yourself simultaneously needing and resenting the same person. Kate's voice is at times humorous, sarcastic, needy, sad, hopeful, and passionate, and Howrey juggles all of those emotions quite well. Kate and Gwen's relationship is a very complex one, and Howrey straddles a fine line between who did the hurting and who wound up hurt. It's a very enjoyable and compelling read, and I'd highly recommend Howrey's first book, Blind Sight, which I loved last year, and included it on my list of the best books I read in 2011.

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