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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Astonish Me: A Novel

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead initially attracted me due to the premise of a generation in the professional dance world. I find everything about it fascinating. 

Joan is a talented dancer, enough to be a member of a celebrated company yet not enough to ever become a principle. She is best known for helping her lover, the astonishing Arslan Ruskov, defect from Russia in the late 1970's. When she feels her life spinning out of her control, she seeks out the love of an old flame, finding herself pregnant and settling for marriage, giving up her professional career. As her son Harry grows, she discovers his talent for dance and trains him. However, as he becomes more talented and focused, his success brings him closer to finding out a secret that could ruin everyone's lives.

I was beyond pleasantly surprised as I found myself unable to put down this book even as I needed to exit the subway to get places like home and work. Shipstead crafts an intriguing story that kept me hooked both with the narrative and the characters. I particularly loved the relationship Joan and Jacob, her husband, had with the neighbors next door. You know them--they are the ones that feel they need to keep up with the Jonses not in material goods, but in worthiness. Gary, the husband, was the one who was always not given a shot. He was gifted, don't you know, but was never encouraged and was always bored in school, which is why he ended up with a less-than-stellar job. Life is just unfair for these kinds of people, never realizing that it might be them. This juxtaposed so well with Joan and Jacob, each of which faced their own demons on the inside but appear to be so calm and collected on the outside.

When I finally put two and two together and figured out that there was a secret and that I knew what it was, I found myself racing to the end of the book just to be able to make sure I wasn't crazy and to hope and pray and keep my fingers crossed that it just wouldn't be true. I came to care so deeply about the Bintz family that I couldn't bear the thought that a mistake so huge, a lie so big could tear this family apart while still yielding such promise. Argh. WHY, MAGGIE?!? WHY MUST YOU DO THIS TO ME?!?

So, yeah. It's absolutely worth the read. If you love dance, pick it up. If you love a good story, pick it up. If you have a secret, find a better way to keep it, then pick this book up.

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.

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