In the roiling summer of 1977, eleven-year-old Mira is an aspiring ballerina in the romantic, highly competitive world of New York City ballet. Enduring the mess of her parent’s divorce, she finds escape in dance—the rigorous hours of practice, the exquisite beauty, the precision of movement, the obsessive perfectionism. Ballet offers her control, power, and the promise of glory. It also introduces her to forty-seven-year-old Maurice DuPont, a reclusive, charismatic balletomane who becomes her mentor.
Over the course of three years, Mira is accepted into the prestigious School of American Ballet run by the legendary George Balanchine, and eventually becomes one of “Mr. B’s girls”—a dancer of rare talent chosen for greatness. As she ascends higher in the ballet world, her relationship with Maurice intensifies, touching dark places within herself and sparking unexpected desires that will upend both their lives.
In the present day Kate, a professor of dance at a Midwestern college, embarks on a risky affair with a student that threatens to obliterate her career and upend the new life she has painstakingly created for her reinvented self. When she receives a letter from a man she’s long thought dead, Kate is hurled back into the dramas of a past she thought she had left behind.
Told in interweaving narratives that move between past and present, Girl Through Glass illuminates the costs of ambition, secrets, and the desire for beauty, and reveals how the sacrifices we make for an ideal can destroy—or save—us.
Sari Wilson trained as a dancer with the Harkness Ballet in New York, was on scholarship at Eliot Feld’s New Ballet School. She was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, a fellow of the Provincetown Fine Arts Center, and her fiction has appeared in Agni, the Oxford American, Slice, and Third Coast. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, the cartoonist Josh Neufeld.
Surfing between authors whose work gives them favored nations status and classics I want to read are those books with synopses that sizzle like a fuse being lit on a cannon. I am ready to be shot through the air. This thrill seeking brought me to Girl Through Glass, a debut novel from Sari Wilson. Published in 2016, the story takes place in the world of ballet schools in New York City of the late 1970s. My only visit to NYC was in 1979 when I was six years old, so my impressions of the Big Apple have been forged by thrillers like Taxi Driver or Wolfen. The contrast of personified beauty and apocalyptic decay was magnetic for me.
The story begins in July 1977, with eleven-year-old Mira existing in two worlds. One is the city of the evening news plagued by garbage strikes, the Son of Sam serial killer and looters brought out by a massive blackout. The other is the secretive world of the "bunheads," as the girls who study ballet refer to each other. An only child, Mira lives in lower Manhattan in a clapboard Victorian era fixer-upper ("the old sad gray house") that her parents bought on a lark. When Mira's dad moves out, it falls on her mother, a free-spirited painter who often insists her daughter call her "Rachel," to raise her.
Mira is enrolled at The Little Kirov, one of many dance studios that operate as a farm system for the School of American Ballet or the American Ballet Theater. The pinnacle of Mira's school year is the annual December performance of The Wounded Prince with its prized role of Flower Princess. Mira wins the part and at rehearsal, is visited by a patron of sorts to New York ballet, small, neat man stricken with polio, Maurice DuPont. He tells Mira that he enjoys watching her. After rehearsal, Mira spots Maurice on the street and rather than head to Columbus Circle for the subway home, she follows him up Fifth Avenue, unafraid. Mira joins Maurice for a carriage ride through Central Park.
"Can I ask you something, Mira? Do you want to be a ballerina?"
She blushes. "I take ballet."
"Hah!" he says. "And how long have you been doing that?"
"How many days a week?"
"Every day but Wednesday and Sunday."
He smiles. "And why do you do this?"
She doesn't have an answer.
"To become a dancer. You have to say what you want." She looks up. There are lines on the side of his mouth that she hasn't noticed before. They make him look even more puppetlike.
"Yes," she says, for suddenly she does not know what she wants: to dance with the Russians. To dance with Baryshnikov as her partner. To dance with giant spotlight-like-eyes on her. She is giddy with anticipation. All the attention she will get, each piece given to her, each unwrapped to reveal a pair of eyes like his.
"I want to show you something, Mira," he says.
Alternating with Mira's coming of age in New York of the past is the midlife crisis in the present day of Kate Randell, a feminist scholar and professor of dance history at a college in Ohio. Kate has pinned her academic hopes on winning a new tenure-track position opening up in performance studies and staying at the university, where she feels her self-destructive tendencies are kept in check. This quickly goes out the window when Kate is seduced by Sioban, a beautiful, vulnerable student from her Dance History 101 course. Despondent over her indiscretion and life in general, Kate receives a cryptic letter from "M," a man from her past who she believed to have been dead.
Mira sees Maurice after rehearsal. He encourages his pupil, appraises her virtues and takes her to the Russian Tea Room, where he introduces Mira to choreographer George Balanchine, father of modern American ballet whose favor can transform a girl into a star. Maurice gives Mira cash, and though she brags to her classmates about her rich boyfriend, their relationship remains not only platonic but adamantly non-romantic, behavior which Maurice considers unbecoming for a dancer. During her performance as Flower Girl, Mira's partner, a prima donna named Christopher, drops her and fractures Mira's wrist. The injury seems to free something in Mira.
Back in the present, Professor Randell begins to unravel when Sioban stops showing up for class. Released for spring break, Kate travels to New York, where she stays with Felicia, a classmate from her School of American Ballet days under the pretense of researching a paper on Bronislava Nijinska. Instead, she begins to search for Maurice DuPont, the bearer of her letter who Kate has unresolved issues with. Meanwhile, in 1978, Mira is powered by a love for performing she feels whenever she dances for Maurice in his apartment. She aces her audition to SAB and after being singled out by Balanchine during class, seems destined for greatness.
The best girls--there are two of them besides Mira in this class--hold a careful alliance. Her two competitors are Felicia and Bryce. Felicia, in her Princess Leia buns, has the air of waiting. Bryce's long limbs twitch as she warms up. They stand together along the far wall where the view of the mirror is most direct, and after class they gather in the hallway or dressing room to compare notes. Unlike at The Little Kirov, they do not envy each other, or not in the same way, not raw on the surface like children. They are already chosen--each of them--so they tolerate, they hate, one another as professionals.
I didn't get what I expected from Girl Through Glass. With very fleeting exceptions, this is not a lurid high school tale of the sort that Megan Abbott specializes in. While I would have preferred the entire novel to take place in the 1970s--I'm an A to Z, serve appetizers before dessert kind of reader, I guess--and go deeper into the world of ballet schools that the author knows so well, I can't find any weaknesses in Wilson's writing, which is gloriously descriptive, original and trusts the reader to make connections without plot being thrown at us. There's a lot of Writing here, but the places and people that Wilson introduces us to are vivid:
Ms. Clement runs The Little Kirov. She's a dancer in her fifties with a vague past--a "European touring career" is how she puts it. Ms. Clement wears too much of the wrong kind of jewelry and chiffon to have really been a Russian dancer, even in her assumed prime. Mira thinks about something her mother said to her once--that Ms. Clement looks like something out of an Ingmar Bergman movie. She doesn't know who Ingmar Bergman is, but she pictures him like someone small and stooped with bright eyes. "A woman," Rachel said, "standing by a window, with the light a certain way. Not miserable, not happy, just there."
Wilson's bunheads are cold, remote controlled devices who wouldn't know how to enjoy themselves if their Russian instructors ordered them to. Mira's existence is spartan. She lives and breathes ballet with the determination of an Eastern Bloc athlete and I can't remember a moment where Mira was allowed to hang out as a teenager. Her only friend is an inappropriate one in Maurice. This is not a fun story, but it is an exquisitely well-written one. Wilson's writing did not afford a single dull moment, and her contrasts between the formal beauty of a ballerina and the decay of Old New York were a powerful blend, like my favorite photograph of Meryl Streep, hanging out on the subway in 1981.
5 stars because it wins Jenna's CRAZY ADULT LITERARY FICTION BALLET BOOK BONUS STAR.
I like my ballet novels like I like my pointe shoes: pink and shiny on the outside, edged with aging bloodstains on the inside. Smooth with satiny allure from one angle, frayed and shattering from the others. Quiet as pattering tiptoes sometimes, but sometimes as cloppingly loud as a galloping horse. Spackled with resin and stitched and bound together with viselike ribbons. Stuffed with bloody lambswool so the show can go on.
Sorry, I couldn't resist, but the point is: I love a good, sordid ballet novel, one that is well written and literary and acknowledges the underlying dysfunction of this world and its inhabitants. When I was young, I loved Pollyanna-ishly optimistic books like Ballet Shoes, which used ballet as a metaphor for the reader-protagonist's vast future potential! These books were basically Horatio Alger in a tutu: through hard work, you could attain your vision of a beautiful life, OR even if not, you'd still be justly rewarded for your sturdy efforts to pull yourself up by your ballet shoe-straps. You'd simply discover another greater passion and/or talent to which you'd aptly apply your ballet-honed discipline and succeed! Like, flying a biplane!
Now that I'm older - I love a different kind of ballet novel, one that acknowledges the darker and more complex realities of NOT necessarily getting rewarded for hard work, or of the hard work NOT necessarily being its own reward and NOT necessarily conferring alternate aviation-related or other abilities. Novels that deal with themes of identity, disappointment, starting over, and with the broken minds and bodies of dancers and those around them, their family, teachers, mentors, lovers, benefactors, competitors.
And the very BEST of these ballet novels combine the BEST of both of these worlds!
Case in point; Girl Through Glass, which makes the trifecta of awesome adult ballet novels. I'll mention the other two in a moment.
Girl Through Glass is well-written, suspenseful (I read it in one sitting), and includes many critical elements of broken ballet dysfunction (a subset of which also perform essential functions in the youthfully optimistic ballet novel): Shattered families! Unreliable parents! Mentally ill moms, and their preying paramours! Demanding stepmothers! Creepy decaying brownstones! Exile from gentrifying Brooklyn! Dramatic ups and downs in financial circumstance! Soulless modern Upper East/West Side minimalist apartments! Eerie cosseted Pavlovian artifacts! Spooky lurking mentors with suspicious motives! Uneasily and insecurely and insufficiently occupying the uncomfortable role of Unlikely Muse. Catty body shaming fellow students! Doomed encounters with would-be groupies! Sexual confusion and shady sexual undertones! Body dysmorphia!
In addition - Girl Through Glass also contains a special complementary BONUS section dealing with Life in Academia (another broken and dysfunctional, competitive world of idealism, perfectionism, passion, obsession, and shattered dreams in the quest for truth and beauty!).
But here's where Girl Through Glass also distinguishes itself and most perfectly executes the complex choreography of melding a more mature Black Swan kind of novel with the shiny happy Streatfeild's "Shoes Books" series kind of novel. After a series of semi-ominous climactic Black Swanny events that solve the mysteries of the story effectively enough but also in a manner Gothic enough to make you go, Hmm.... The novel then refocuses on the issue of parenting and (young) motherhood, on mental health, on mother vs. child's personal identities and caregiving ability/availability vs. needs, all centering on the evolving relationship between the protagonist and her mother in a manner poignantly rendered enough to make me a bit teary. I mean, bravo to that. That's a more challenging way to close the act than, say, having the protagonist stab her evil doppelgänger with a shard of mirror. (Because when in doubt, it's always just easier to have your protagonist stab her evil doppelgänger with a shard of mirror.)
I'm not going to apologize for the fact that these ballet books can be a tad soapy. Ballet isn't, and never has been, known for its subtlety. Early ballerinas kept dancing even after they set themselves on fire. (This is historically documented: see my review for Fashion Victims.)
Lots of people might dislike this book and complain about it. If you think you might be one of them, then I'd suggest probably not reading it. If you are going to enjoy this book - I feel like you probably already know who you are.
I mentioned the trifecta, the triple crown, of ballet novel achievement. We have this book, focused primarily on dysfunctional mentor relationships (and with one's parents). Next, we have Meg Howry's The Cranes Dance, dealing with dysfunctional sibling relationships (and mental illness). And last, we have Maggie Shipstead's Astonish Me, dealing with dysfunctional romantic relationships and relationships with one's partner(s) and children and students. And all these novels also incorporate many of the sordidly spectacular elements delineated above. I say sit down to a mini Ballet Book Fest triple feature of these three, and enjoy!
This is a debut novel about a young ballerina in New York City in the late 1970s. I love the ballet*, and I thought it would be neat to read about the period from the perspective of an 11-year-old girl, named Mira.
The novel alternates between Mira in the 1970s, when she was enrolled in a highly competitive ballet school and her family life is in turmoil, and the present day, when she is now a professor and dance historian who calls herself Kate. There is a reason why she changed her name, and the story slowly builds toward the revealing conclusion.
The author, who trained as a ballerina and obviously knows a lot about that world, wrote some lovely descriptions of how it feels to dance, and to be so strong and in command of one's body. She also wrote about adolescence well, and how chaotic it is when parents fight and then separate.
My favorite parts of the novel were with Mira and her ballet school; I didn't care for the modern story as much. But I enjoyed the discussions about the history of ballet, and I plan to do more reading on the subject.
Recommended for readers who like stories about dancers.
*While reading this book, I paused a few times to rewatch some of my favorite dance movies and TV shows, including Center Stage, White Nights and Bunheads. I also went down a rabbit hole with Mikhail Baryshnikov interviews; my favorite was his hour-long conversation with Ian Brown at the Banff Centre (available on YouTube). At one point Baryshnikov is asked about being considered the best male dancer in the world, and I loved his response, which was something like: "I don't think about being the best. I think all artists just strive every day to be better, to focus on being the best is counterproductive." I heart Misha.
Favorite Quotes "In Ms. Clement's class, something secret blooms in her. Mira doesn't get this feeling anywhere else. She is learning that ballet makes a science out of the movements of living. She is learning how to walk in that special dancer way — like a bright, fearful bird. She is learning how to hold her fingers as if she has just let go of a dainty teacup, still feeling the pressure between her thumb and middle finger. She is learning how to smile and lift her chin as she pliés. She is learning that to be a girl is to be strong and tireless. She smiles and lifts her sternum, moves her arm from a first, to a second, to a fourth position, gathering up the air and redelivering it. She will be reborn, transformed. She can feel it."
"Mira dances like a demon. She dances with a wildness that makes the other girls gape, and then snicker when she is out of sight. It isn't that her breasts have grown or her toe shoe ribbons are grimy, but something in her far-off expression, the seriousness of her too-pale face, the flush of her cheeks as she works over and over again on her pirouettes and battements. She dances as if she's the only one in the room ... It is terrible to be singled out, to feel eyes on you all the time. It is wonderful, and terrible too. But more than that it does something to your insides: they don't feel like they belong to you anymore. Your seams come loose and parts of you start coming out. It makes normal things — like walking or talking — feel hard, and things that are hard — like holding an extension until your leg shakes — feel easy."
"Like a family, bound by its own mythology. One can hardly switch parents; one makes do, adapts. In family life, in a family of good children, each one strains to be the best."
"Attempts to describe an inner life, always doomed to fail."
"I thought I owned the world. What a fool is the girl who desires to be a princess, trapped in the tower of her own making."
"Balanchine escaped the Russian Revolution, way before Stalinism set in. If he had stayed, he might have been killed. Instead, he came to America. He started a school. I was born in America. I went to his school. There are accidents of history everywhere. The carnage all around us."
A book about BALLET! Yes, yes, yes, YES!!! Sign me up! I ordered this ages ago and was so excited when it finally showed up at my library.
But....I struggled hard to get into this book. The writing is overly affected and showy; formal, with odd observations, almost as if Wilson was trying too hard to impress. The story is narrated in the first person for chapters taking place in the present and in the third person in chapters taking place in the past. The chapters alternate and it's a jarring juxtaposition. The book has a very cold and remote heart. I felt as though I was observing Mira's life from a great distance, or maybe.....through glass? Could this feeling of detachment have been the author's intent all along? Hmmm....
In spite of the rough start, I seemed to fall into the rhythm about halfway through and became more interested in where Wilson was going with this and what would happen to Mira, the young and gifted ballet dancer. By the end, I was completely engrossed and had moved from a 2-star read to a 4-star. It's a different sort of book to be sure, and Mira is a character I never felt that I completely understood or related to. I don't know that I would recommend this to anyone because it's so peculiar in style and storyline, but if you do pick this up, give it a good chance to pull you in. I'm glad I did.
A novel that begins quietly, at a fragile, cool remove, Girl Through Glass seeps under the skin until a feverish abandon takes hold and you think about this book when you are meant to be doing other things, waiting until the day's demands are complete and you can return to the New York City ballet world, circa late 70s/early 80s.
Preteen Mira has been graced with the physical form and stamina, the mental acuity and discipline, and an inherent musicality that propel her swiftly and surely into the competitive ballet scene. Calling upon her own childhood dance training, Sari Wilson offers up the razor-edged rivalries for the very few spaces in the city's top ballet schools, the mercurial instructors, the grueling hours, the daily diet that consists of soda pop and carefully apportioned blueberry muffins, the young, unformed bodies that ache like old, arthritic women, the sexual vulnerability of these young woman, known as "bunheads"–for their high-perched top-knotted hair—who livebreathdream ballet.
Mira's 1970s narrative is intertwined with Mira as a present-day adult, a dance history professor who now calls herself Kate. Kate carries a deep melancholy that dampens her affect; she seems to be sleepwalking through life, in heartrending contrast to her vibrant, hyper-alive childhood. The young girl was seemingly in full control, every motion considered, practiced, calculated; whereas the adult woman is sloppy and almost lethargic, yet oddly impulsive. She is struggling to find a secure academic appointment, yet manages to trash the one chance she has in a moment's regrettable passion. In an attempt to pull herself together, she leaves her Ohio college town and returns to New York, searching to make the ghosts of her past return to life.
Girl Through Glass burns brightest through Mira's eyes. Her coming-of-age experience is fraught with tension and pain, and a subplot of a creepy Svengali adds particular tension to the dramatic behind-the-scenes narrative. But Kate's darkness is compelling, for we feel her profound sense of loss without knowing why and we ache to find out how the unstoppable girl became the woman, interrupted.
With gorgeous imagery, surprising characters, and a deep and satisfying sense of place–in the ballet studio, on the stage, and within the boroughs of New York at the end of an era–this is a beautifully composed and executed debut.
CALLING ALL BUNHEADS: This is a great psychological drama about ballet! It follows two narratives: Mira is an eleven-year-old ballet dancer with big dreams, and divorcing parents, during the summer of 1977 in NYC; Kate is a present-day dance instructor at a midwestern college who is having a forbidden affair with a student. When Kate receives a letter from a man she thought was dead, it hurtles her back into her past. Can either of them get beyond the drama (and bad choices) to achieve their ambitions?
If you grew up, especially as a girl, in the 1970s and 80s, you probably remember how glamorized the Russian-infused New York ballet world was. Pavlova perfume, anyone? Baryshnikov? The Turning Point? It's a thrill to see this world from the perspective of an adolescent making her way within it, the exquisite beauty juxtaposed with the gritty reality and interlaced with a powerful mystery that takes decades to unfold. This suspenseful, evocative, and skillfully written book alternates between chapters set during the end of the Balanchine era and during a more contemporary time, and reflects on how early aspirations towards perfection can affect—and in some ways deform—a life. Highly recommend.
I am astounded that so many people gave this book rave reviews. Like "The Walking Dead" is a drama described to the media via the backdrop of zombies, so is Girl Through Glass a novel that claims to be "[a]n enthralling literary debut that tells the story of a young girl’s coming of age in the cutthroat world of New York City ballet—a story of obsession and the quest for perfection, trust and betrayal, beauty and lost innocence," yet is really just a tale of molestation, neglect, and lack of self-awareness. If you think you'll be getting true insight into the world of ballet in the 1970s, think again; it takes nearly 160 pages just for Mira to get into her elite school, and then the ordeal is rushed through and vaguely described. The reader may get one scene of her in class, then it flash forwards another year suddenly. Readers get more detail about hairnets rattling in the girls' backpacks on the way to dance class than they do what happens to the girls in the school. Mira doesn't even stay at the school long enough to be that reflective of the successful dancer. When Gordon Bombay keeps reflecting on his childhood hockey memory in The Mighty Ducks, I suffered serious secondhand embarrassment that he hadn't moved on with his life. Similarly, it's pathetic that, after all of these years, Mira/Kate is stuck in a world of longing for something that happened to her in middle school.
The opaque narrator is frustrating an ineffective. Readers do not get clear descriptions of any scene and are left with countless questions such as what her mother actually does when she deserts Mira at the dance store, what makes Mira actually attack Maurice, what "the prince" actually dies of (I'm thinking AIDS), and what causes her loss of emotions towards ballet. Characters are thrown in irresponsibly with little back story to make them dimensional. Mira's dance friends, her parents, and even Maurice are told from a chilling distance. I wanted to root for Sioban, who at least had fervor, but even she bored me when I didn't get more information about her.
Mira/Kate suffers from depersonalization and depression, which may be common in the ballet world, but I just couldn't make myself care enough. I guess we're supposed to see it as a triumph that she can "now" live her life at the end, but she's not interesting enough for me to assume she'll do anything with it. Mira is the tiny pointe shoe in the glass, but shattering it just takes away the value; she will never be as important as when she was performing.
I'm only giving it 2 stars because it accurately reflects the competitive, desperate world of professional academics in the modern world.
“Maybe the people who tell you to trust them can’t be trusted, and the people who ask nothing are the ones who are there when you need them.”
Novels and films about ballet enthrall me, especially the stories regarding the psychological torture ballerinas often put themselves through to achieve the perfect Arabesque silhouette. Jealousy, doubt, and anxiety mesh to create a jumbo for which the dance thrives, and no one's immune to the belly of the beast behind the talent. From Tiny Pretty Things and Shiny Broken Pieces to The Turning Point and Black Swan, ballet moves me (even though I took modern dance). I love the dance from afar.
In Sari Wilson's debut novel, Girl Through Glass, weaves a coming of age story in alternate time frames (late 1970s/early 1980s and present day). We meet Mira, at eleven, a young girl primed to take her place in the competitive ballet world. But, she dances between insecurity and assurance, as she strengthens her moves and wobbles with parental dysfunction and upheaval, and impropriety from admirers. As an adult in the present-day, we find her as a dance instructor, still battling dysfunction and upheaval, due to her past, ever insecure of her present, and more so searching for her future.
Along with the drama, Wilson clearly demonstrates her knowledge of the ballet world, with much thanks to her dance background. She writes what she knows, creating scene after scene of the backdrop ballet followers never get to see onstage. Furthermore, within each page lies suspense. You're never sure of when the false stage will drop beneath your feet, only to catapult you into doubt as you read.
Some scenes disturbed me. I won't spoil them. But, boundaries break between Mira and a benefactor of sorts. She falls prey to the madness around her set by her parents, narcissistic and neglectful, in their own way. They detonate the bomb shattering her world.
Slow in the beginning, the story picks up. Stay with this only issue and you'll find a story worth reading.
Powerful yet subtle. Nostalgic yet long-sighted. Majestic yet simple. Wilson creates an addition to a world few venture and many admire from afar.
Girl Through Glass explores a lost New York through the eyes of a gifted young dancer struggling to harnass the ecstatic power she wields-- over her audience, her family, and the grown man who wants to make her his muse. Lush with the shame and exhilaration that lies at the lip of adolescence, Sari Wilson's debut novel is a carefully crafted observation of the risks of celebrating precocity.
I'm not going to rate this one because I am DNFing at 60 pages in. I fell in love with the cover and the blurb, but not the writing. For me, it seemed like the author was trying too hard to be edgy and deep. Just didn't work for me.
Two of my reading goals for the year: (1) read new releases and (2) take more chances. Girl Through Glass was pre-ordered, and it's way off course from my usual hunting ground. In a way, I would describe it as an "Oprah's book club" type work (no offense intended, but emotional dramas are not my thing). And yet, despite the ease of translating this into a Lifetime Movie script (shudder, again, no offense, just not for un-romantic me), I was swept away by Wilson's lyricism, her profound observations, her wisdom, and of course, the passion and knowledge with which she described dancing.
The most recent book I've read that reminds me of this one is Bel Canto (which I didn't like, but which was written in a similar style, and with similar passion, but from another artistic perspective: opera). Which makes me wonder how much of my absolute LOVE for this book comes from my love of everything dance. I was never a "bunhead" but I did dance/teach dance/was of that world in my younger days, and everything Wilson describes is spot-on (from the studio hierarchies in NYC to the diet of dancers to the feeling one has while immersed in the dance). Reading this I was back in my little world of my tweens-twenties, such a magical, creative, open, passionate place- a refreshing experience. I'm even more motivated now to get back to the studio - been starting up some modern dance classes this year, and now I may even go back "home"- the barre, and ballet.
But, even if you aren't passionate about dance, you might still love this book. It's beautifully written (I could barely believe this was a debut novel!), and it speaks with such depth and poignancy. Our heroine is the most developed character I've read in a while, and she is so wise. Also, the story addresses some pretty heavy issues ().
I would recommend this to: * anyone who likes/reads dramas * anyone who loves dance
I picked up this book because I love works of art that pull back the veneer on the harsh, gritty, uncaring world of ballet, and I love literary fiction. I thought that Sari Wilson's 2016 literary novel, "Girl Through Glass," would deliver both in spades.
I expected to read the literary version of one of my favorite movies: the 2003 Robert Altman indie film/almost-docu-drama, "The Company," about an aspiring ballerina performing with the renowned Joffrey Ballet in Chicago.
That film was based on a large amount of documentary research about the lived experiences of modern ballet dancers, and I love the screenplay and the framing of each scene. I love that movie so much. Also important to note: the stage itself is a character in the story. The scratched, dirty surface of the stage, the backstage the dancers move through, the industrial metal structures holding the lights up, the heat and glare of the lights, the threat of lightning and rain hitting the stage when it is located outside. It's thrilling to watch the structure itself come to life in a film, and have the full respect of the audience and everyone else in the movie.
The novel "Girl Through Glass" isn't really focused on the world of ballet, and after 38 pages, that fact is so clear to me that I must DNF.
While I do love literary prose, the writing in this book didn't satisfy me enough to overcome my dashed content hopes. The prose style in "Girl Through Glass" reminded me a lot of Amanda Coplin's prose in her 2012 novel, "The Orchardist." I would characterize her sentences as stolid and staid. That writing style works for a great many readers, but I just need more pizazz and poetry to stay interested.
There is a fine line between poetic impression and inference, and communicating the hard facts of a story. Sari Wilson's prose achieves poetic impression by scene cutaway and withholding information from the reader -- which is fine, a lot of books I love also do that -- but Ms. Wilson doesn't write with the level of pyrotechnic language-fireworks that I've come to expect from elliptical timelines. I'm afraid other authors have spoiled me for life, and I just can't ship this heavier, unemotional style of writers like Amanda Coplin and Sari Wilson.
The content of "Girl Through Glass" is mostly focused on the main character, Mira (which is the main character's name as a child in the 1970s) and Kate (which is the main character's name as an adult decades later), experiencing and surviving being raped as a child by a ballet aficionado, a man named Maurice.
When 11-year-old Mira first meets Maurice, he is a 47-year-old man "stricken with polio." Another Goodreads reviewer summarized the plot of Mira and Maurice in "Girl Through Glass" this way:
"He eventually rapes her, she becomes pregnant and gives the baby up for adoption, and later in her 40s her son finds her and they establish a relationship."
Another Goodreads reviewer described Maurice as "a creepy old man."
If author Sari Wilson is writing about an experience she actually had as a child in ballet school, then I truly apologize for DNF'ing this book. I don't know if this is memoir-ish fiction or not, but if it were billed as a memoir about surviving pedophilia and rape, set within the far-less-important competitive and callous world of ballet, my content expectations would not have clashed with this book.
Had I known that this novel was focused on pedophilia and the trauma and aftermath of being raped as a child, I would have preferred to reread Alison Espach's stunning debut novel, "The Adults." The characters in that book are much more bold and compelling, and the prose style in that novel features the language-pyrotechnics I crave.
The two narratives of "Girl Through Glass" (child-Mira's and adult-Kate's) are both sad and gray. In content and tone, every page I read of this book was washed in a cumbersome shade of pewter. I'm not opposed to this style, or the content of this novel. It's just completely at odds with what I thought I'd signed up for.
In the movie "The Company," the grimdark world of ballet is juxtaposed at all times with its glorious (false) veil of color and beauty. The film's audience sees the bright costumes and movement that the privileged ticket-holders consume, and then bears witness to the cruelties and purse-strings behind all those fluttering bodies.
In "Girl Through Glass," the first 38 pages featured no strident colors or electrified bodies. Everything is grimdark and sad. The story takes pains to elaborate on themes of ruination and failed struggle. The gray tone of the prose is as dull as the voices of Mira and Kate. Reading these pages, I felt like I was sitting in front of a windowpane on a drizzling day, trapped inside and staring at a colorless sky.
Though I did not finish this book, and did not meet Maurice on the page, I must also say that it makes me deeply uncomfortable that the pedophile rapist in this book has polio. Using physical disability, disease, and deformity as an attribute of a malevolent character is a common feature of literary ableism, and I confess that learning about Maurice's condition in other Goodreads reviews made me far more certain I should stop reading this book.
I would give "Girl Through Glass" a one-star rating for following such a terrible ableist trope, but if author Sari Wilson really was raped as a child by an adult man with polio, then my discomfort with the ableism in Maurice's character is highly unfair.
I'm going to leave this review unrated, since my biggest problem with this book is simply that it failed to live up to my expectations. Punishing the book with a one-star review for that reason feels profoundly unfair.
But I would like to add this final note: if author Sari Wilson simply added polio to Maurice to make him more menacing, creepy, and gross, thereby using physical disability and disease as a shorthand for "moral bankruptcy," then I would like to state that this kind of writing is ableist af and authors need to STOP. DOING. THIS. Because that kind of ableist trope is far more morally bankrupt than anyone surviving polio will ever be. The United States elected FDR President, for f*ck sake. Noble, amazing, wonderful people survive diseases. No one is less intrinsically good or possesses less moral integrity simply because they are less physically able. So please, authors of the world: for the love of all that is holy, knock this sh*t off.
Disturbing read about an 11 year old ballerina named Mira who becomes enamored with a man 3 times her age. The story is split into two narratives--Mira's story in the 1970's and Kate's in the present moment. As their tales unravel, secrets are revealed and the consequences of Mira's relationship with Maurice come to light.
This is not a book that I would want to read again. I thought that writing is beautiful, and I loved reading about the ballet. However, reading about Mira and Maurice's relationship was too much.
Powerful. Gripping. Incandescent. These are only a few of the words circling my mind after reading GIRL THROUGH GLASS. This beautifully written novel drew me into the rarified world of dance, filled with passion, glory and heartbreak. As powerful storytelling kept me turning the pages, Wilson’s extraordinary voice whispered to me about the things that both bind and divide us: desire, ambition and love. This book will stay in my heart for a long time.
It is hard to classify this book as anything other than about dance and life and as they merge into one. Sari has woven a tapestry that blends with reality and had me wondering what parts of this book were genuinely fictitious. The raw emotion and passion of the young girl can be felt through t the pages, just as the loss of self can be felt in the woman.
There are events that you can feel unfolding, yet they still shock you in a way you were perhaps not prepared for. Beautifully written and well presented.
For any lovers of coming of age, finding and losing yourself, soul searching, dance, New York, teaching, and looking outside yourself to find fulfillment in something more. It was painful at times and yet hard to put down.
4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for its raw emotion bursting through the pages.
I mentally debated giving this book two stars because there was some pretty good writing, but in the end, I just can't do it. Every time I remember reading this book, all I feel is some sort of unpleasant, annoyed sensation inside.
First and foremost, Girl Through Glass turns out wildly different from what the description indicates. This can be totally fine - great, even! - as long as the actual narrative is an improvement upon what you expected. This one was not.
In the 1970s is Mira, a young girl who's set on a track to become an amazing ballerina. In the present, there's Kate, a professor who has an affair with a student.
Both of their lives spiral out of control. Both of them lack pretty much any interest whatsoever.
I think it's pretty obvious from the beginning
The thing that really gets me with this book is that it could have been interesting. It could've had an engrossing plot that made you want to learn how the story unfolded. Instead, the whole thing just felt dated, musty, and disjointed.
When I say disjointed, it's easy to see from the writing what I mean. Scenes frequently remain unfinished, and while that raises a million questions, the way the answers are handled isn't satisfying.
Mira takes forever to get into her dance school, and once she does, you see little of her there, so this really isn't a ballet book, either. It's just a book that uses aspects of ballet for plot points.
Really, this is a book about a creepy relationship between a girl and an old man, as well as an inappropriate teacher-student affair. There's a lot of emotional distress, but never anything concrete or any enticing character traits that give you reason to truly care about what's happening.
I finished this book, hoping with each new page things would improve stylistically and I would actually start to feel invested in some part of this story. Alas, it wasn't meant to be; in place of piqued curiosity, I just got irritation, boredom, and disgust.
This is not the worst book I've ever read - not even close (I can name what the worst one was, and I hope it's rotting away, mysteriously falling off library shelves into trash cans, never to appear again). Even so, it felt like it was trying too hard to make clever narrative choices but always falling short. Where there should've been development, there was none. Where there should've been the possibility of emotional ties to the reader, there pretty much was none.
Girl Through Glass is a demotivating read that I cannot recommend, simply because I feel I wasted precious hours of my life trying to like its uneven and uninspiring style and plot.
I read about 100 pages before skimming the rest. There are two competing storylines in this book - one set in the present and written in the first person by Kate, a dance professor in her 40s who has an affair with a student and the other is set from 1977-1980 and written in the third person about Mira, a young girl who is studying ballet and becomes involved with an older man. I didn't care for the dual storylines technique (it is fairly obvious that Mira and Kate are the same person and it is eventually explained what happened for Mira to change her name). The 1970s story was more compelling but still slowly paced and difficult to invest in the characters. The author's prose is hard-edged and beautiful at ends but it felt overwritten to me. There were too many adjectives that subsumed the action.
The plot was also ridiculous. Mira becomes secret friends with an older man, Maurice, who worships ballet. He eventually rapes her, she becomes pregnant and gives the baby up for adoption, and later in her 40s her son finds her and they establish a relationship. There was also a lot of set-up - 100 pages in and Mira still hadn't joined the School of American Ballet (SAB) and started dancing for Balanchine. There was a lot of family drama (Mira's parents divorce) before her ballet career takes off. I wanted to read this because of the relation to 1970s ballet in NYC and there wasn't enough of that to hold my interest.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
There was some good stuff in here, but a good amount of the book felt overrefined to me. It seemed more concerned with ornament than soul, and it left me wanting soul. The pacing of the reveal didn't sit right with me either, feeling like it made the book into a different book once or twice along the way. It left things feeling unfinished and I didn't feel satisfied with the finishes that were provided. I thought it relied on the ornamentation to get beyond that, and it just didn't sit well with me.
I'm conflicted about how to rate this. The unpleasant squirmy feeling was obviously intentional, yet still squirmy and unpleasant. Four stars for execution, two stars for enjoyableness, I guess? And if there were half stars, I would give it an extra one for being about ballet dancers.
Inexplicably, I love novels about ballet. While this one doesn't stand up quite as strongly to the other few I've read so far (Maggie Shipstead's Astonish Me, Meg Howry's The Cranes Dance, Colum McCann's Dancer), it is still a worthy and interesting read.
I think my major gripe with the novel is that, up until the last fifty pages or so, it feels very much like two novels. The surprises at the end aside, it was not difficult to see how the past and present would converge, but the two story lines lacked the needed coherence of a truly perfect novel.
I'm giving this 3.5 stars, but I would still strongly recommend this to anybody else who loves these dance novels as much as I do.
A stunning debut novel. This raw & true-to-life behind-the-satin and ribbons story will shock you as much as the beauty and grace that mesmerizes you. This debut story is brilliantly crafted & simply exquisite; Wilson describes Mira's cult-like, competitive, obsessive, exquisite beautiful world unlike any other author I've read. I couldn't put this book down. Loved this.
I usually write reviews chronologically, but I feel compelled to review this one first because it is without question one of the best books I read in 2015. To be clear upfront, this is a great novel but it is often an unpleasant one and the topic(s) will turn off some readers. It is far from identical...this is much broader, focused on a different player, and involves a very different relationship...but I couldn't help but think of Lolita, a beautiful telling of a disturbing tale and a reference made by the author herself in interviews about the book.
The book is told from two viewpoints, young Mira's and adult Kate's. We meet Mira at eleven when she is rising in the world of ballet from a talented child to a true star. She pushes ever harder, struggling for the perfection in her art that she lacks in her home life. Mira meets Maurice, a man obsessed with her dancing and a vision of her a the perfect ballerina, developing a relationship we know from the start can't be "right." Although we know where its headed, parts of their story still come as a surprise and the story still manages to shock the reader who has been waiting for it all along. Meanwhile, middle-aged Kate struggles in her professional life as a college instructor while trying to make peace with her past life as a young dancer.
There is a lot here. For me, the book is largely about "the gaze," about performance, about watching and being watched. Wilson explores what an intense gaze does to the watcher and the watched,. She explores how the gaze turns person into object and what that does to the mind, especially when the watched is just a child. An attentive reader can't help but notice her own role as watcher as the story unfolds. Maurice's relationship with Mira is central to this story, but far from the book's only theme. We see a crumbling marriage, the impact of dysfunctional parents on an attentive child, the sacrifice artists make for art, the internal struggle for perfection, and the complex relationship between our adult selves and our child pasts. Ballet plays a role in this book, but I'd hesitate to call it a book about ballet.
This book, in language and theme, is mesmerizing and beautiful. It isn't for everyone, but readers willing to delve into often uncomfortable territory will find beauty in the language (that parallels beauty in performance). It is a book that makes you think and makes you feel. The reader anticipates certain scenes, knowing they must be coming while still hoping somehow they won't. Five stars.
This review is based on an advance reader's copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Girl Through Glass has a delicious darkness to it. It is well written, beautifully actually at times, but this is not a lighthearted story. Told in alternating chapters, as the reader we are slowly let into the what happened then…. that lead to the happenings now. The journey unravels as the two stories work their towards one another.
As I often do when books are told in alternating perspectives… I find myself leaning to one story line over the other. In this case it was young Mira’s story that drew me in the most wanting me to know what happens to this young girl and how our life decisions play out into our futures.
I found this book to be unique in its telling, definitely a book that will give you plenty to think about.
This is a novel told from the past (late 70s and early 80s) and the present. I liked the "past" parts better, when Mirabelle was a young ballet dancer living in New York. It's a slightly dark novel, which I tend to like. It was more of a 3.5 star book for me.
Holy cats, this book is amazing. Propulsive, physical and utterly captivating. I could not put it down and when I did, all I wanted to do was pick it back up. More people need to read this, whether you care about ballet or not.
In the present, dance professor Kate engages in an affair with a female student and begins to look into her past. In the past, a young ballerina named Mira struggles against her mother's indifference and her parents' impending divorce to become one of the favored students in the most prestigious ballet school in New York City. Mira has a benefactor, an older man, and as that relationship grows, and Mira works closer to her dream, her and Kate's narratives collide.
Unsurprisingly, Mira is . The whole story seems to be a precursor to the book Kate writes at the end, about ballet and femininity, and the descriptions of ballet life were the best parts of the novel. They reminded me of the descriptions of the gymnasts in Megan Abbott's You Will Know Me. The revelation as to why Kate quit dance is quite shocking, and yet somehow I wasn't shocked by it. The narrative moved a little slowly and wasn't the ballet thriller I had hoped it would be.