Maggie Shipstead’s 2012 novel, Seating Arrangements, perfectly and bitingly examines the world of New England WASP-ery. (The country-club caste system! The whale-embroidered day shorts!)
Now, the 30-year-old author is back with the same pitch-perfect insights and slyly revealing subtleties. Only this time she's delved into the world of professional ballet.
Astonish Me follows the lives of several ballerinas for three decades, starting in 1976. Joan is the good-but-not-great dancer who can never quite get over her brief affair with a Baryshnikov-like defector. Jacob is the reliable and fawning childhood friend she ends up marrying. Elaine is Joan’s former roommate, a mid-level ballerina who harbors an unrequited love for her gay choreographer. Harry is Joan and Jacob’s son, a boy whose talents force his mother back into the spotlight.
With a grace that can only be described as “dancerly,” Shipstead moves back and forth in time, zeroing in on key moments in her characters’ lives: jealousies, alliances and all-too-familiar longings for the things one can’t have.
You don’t have to love ballet to love this book--but we kinda bet you’ll be humming Tchaikovsky by the end.