Tuesday, March 1, 2016
Review: Girl Through Glass
hardcover, 304 pages
A review copy of this book was provided through TLC Book Tours
Girl Through Glass, Sari Wilson's novel set in the world of New York City ballet, is a story of beauty, obsession, love, and betrayal. Told through interweaving narratives--one set in the years 1977-1980, and the other in the present--Girl Through Glass is entirely absorbing. In 1977, Mira Able, eleven years old, is a bun-head, an aspiring dancer. As her parents' marriage crumbles (and both parents seemingly forget their daughter for long stretches of time) Mira loses herself in the world of dance. She meets Maurice, a 47-year-old balletomane, and a troubling and intense friendship develops as Mira becomes invisible to her parents, and all too visible to her fellow dance students. In the present day narrative, Kate Randell, a professor of dance history at an Ohio University, tries to make her way in the academic world, as she reckons with secrets of the past and temptations--in the form of a beautiful young student--of the present.
Wilson's interwoven tales of past and present help build a sense of tension and suspense. She also creates a finely drawn and perfectly embellished portrait of the world of George Balanchine, the School of American Ballet, and the idealized, ethereal ballerina of the time. I loved every detail of this world: the unspoken hatred of the overlooked girls for "Mr. B's girls"--the chosen girls who epitomize the perfect marriage of physique and technique; the mothers waiting and watching nervously, sacrificing their own lives to support their daughter's dreams; the vivid details of leotard and footwear.
Mira's relationship with Maurice, a figure reminiscent of Drosselmeyer in The Nutcracker, dark and seductive, partially disabled by polio, obsessed with ballet, and with Mira, is troubling, fraught with danger, and completely believable. Mira is both calculating and innocent, naive and canny, and her pendulum swings between childishness and premature womanliness draw her into a dangerously secret friendship with Maurice, who becomes her mentor, her admirer, her friend. The novel follows Mira through her ascension into the ranks of "Mr. B's girls," over a period of three years.
Girl Through Glass is not just about dance and dancers. It is a story of being a woman in the world, a story of a girl's attempt to control her own body, and thus her life, through an almost religious devotion to discipline and art. The impossibility of this task, and the reality of the masculine power behind the ideals of physical beauty Mira tries to live up to, is just one of Wilson's themes. The novel is the story of a woman's attempt to face her own past and its secrets, and to create a life of beauty out of the wreckage of the past. Wilson's writing is filled with exceptional beauty; beautifully wrought scenes give off their incandescent glow on nearly every page. But the exquisite craft of Wilson's writing never overpowers the story, and her characters are so real they lift off the page. I especially appreciated the abundance of sensory details that brought every scene to life, and the perfect pacing, as the narrative built toward revelation. Overall, Girl Through Glass is emotionally resonant and completely enthralling. Highly recommended, no dance experience necessary.