Sunday, March 4, 2012

Bunheads

I just read the new book Bunheads, by Sophie Flack, drawn in by the amusing title and also by my fascination with the single-minded and rather austere lives of ballet dancers, who seem to be second only to nuns in their dedication to their chosen vocation. From that aspect, the book delivers many interesting insider views of their existence, and if you share my interest in the dance world, you may enjoy it; but although I wanted to like the book, I can't say that I did. I didn't dislike it either--I just found it a bit flat. Although Flack's command of language is good and her descriptions authentic, the book feels episodic rather than plot-driven, and I didn't fall under the spell of any of her characters. I really wanted to, especially because it has many wonderful moments--revealing the simultaneous camaraderie and conflict among members of the corps de ballet; showing the differences between dancers and "pedestrians," as the dancers call non-dancers; and even the small insights about others related to the dance world, such as stagehands, seamstresses and masseuses. But for me, the author didn't sufficiently pull it all together into a compelling story. In one chapter, Hannah is agonizing over how to pursue a relationship with Jacob, a cute musician she meets on a rare break, but at the beginning of the next chapter, we have jumped in time to a career-related conflict or to her thoughts about a "balletomane" fan, Matthew, with no resolution or continuity, and I have to confess this disjointed style made my mind wander as I read.

It's a first effort, and given the author's biographical data from the book jacket flap, I'd say it's hard to call it fiction! Like her protagonist, she began dance training at age seven, moved to Manhattan to dance with a premier ballet company at 15, and retired from the life in her 20s, then enrolled in college. I hope that Flack writes another that is able to draw on her admitted wealth of knowledge without sticking quite so closely to the facts. This is a case where the writing instructor's exhortation to "write what you know" may have been followed too intently. That said, if you are a ballet fan, you may disagree with me. Pick it up and judge for yourself!

Here is a video of the author talking about her book:

http://youtu.be/96q_6ryzE-A

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