Author: Meg Howrey
Genre: Contemporary fiction, literary fiction
Publisher: Vintage Books, 2012
Read for: Review, New Adult Challenge
Kate Crane is a solo dancer on a premier dance company in New York. Until a few months ago, her sister Gwen was a principal, surpassing her older sister -- until she had a nervous breakdown and intentionally injured her knee. In the aftermath, Kate has to recenter herself now that she doesn't have her sister to hold her in balance. As she examines what she has lost because of Gwen, her own sanity threatens to fray.
When I requested The Cranes Dance from NetGalley, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I'm drawn to books about mental health issues due to my first degree, and the ballet/perfectionism element also intrigued me, but I wasn't sure if the book would be enjoyable. While The Cranes Dance was certainly not an easy book to read, I was very impressed with the powerful way the story enveloped me in Kate's stressful world.
Initially, I had some issues with Kate's voice. While she is presumably in her mid to late twenties in The Cranes Dance, at times her voice is very superficial and young-sounding, peppered with profanity and at times immature images. However, as the story progressed, her voice became very real. As she described the way living with Gwen in the throes of her mental illness affected her and the continued stress of having to evaluate her life in ballet after Gwen left it, I felt compassion and empathy for her character, despite the fact that she was at times irritating.
I also felt that Kate's personal journey was compelling and believable. Kate hits some very low points in The Cranes Dance, abusing pain medications due to a neck injury, fascinating about taking comfort in some of Gwen's bizarre rituals in order to cope with life, entering into negative relationships for something to distract her from her life. However, she also experiences growth. While we journey with Kate into the lowest parts of her life, we also explore her thought processes. We see her act with compassion despite the fact that she is contemplating horrible things. I think The Cranes Dance was able to convey a message of hope to those struggling with mental health issues without sugarcoating the issue.
I think The Cranes Dance presents some compelling themes for the modern young woman, whether or not that woman has an interest in ballet. While my interest in dance has always been casual and amateur, in other arenas of my life I have felt the intense expectations, whether real or imagined, of peers and family, to excel and attain perfection. I think modern-day America has some high expectations for women -- we are supposed to have strong careers in spite of gender discrimination, as well as raising healthy, well-adjusted children, and being good friends, and maintaining spotless homes, and cooking well-balanced vegan meals for our families. Oh, and if we aren't thin and beautiful, all of that other success is negated. Does anyone else ever feel like this? Ballet is the perfect microcosm to display this more global issue -- the dancers are expected to execute difficult physical feats with exactness, learn multiple roles, and maintain tiny, beautiful bodies. I think these issues are relevant to all women, even if we don't execute them in the world of ballet. I think many women will find something to relate to in the overwhelming stress that affects Kate in The Cranes Dance.
The Cranes Dance is not always a pleasant book to read, but it presents many interesting truths for our modern society in the theater of ballet. I think many women will be able to relate to the stress and struggles Kate experiences.
Warnings: Smattering of f-bombs, drug abuse, scene of sensuality, strong thematic material