Archive for the ‘disappointment’ Tag

Life Pirouettes   Leave a comment

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Once I was able to get beyond the similarities, of which there are many to the 1977 movie The Turning Point, I found myself enjoying Maggie Shipstead’s Astonish Me. Actually, what I appreciated, and what kept me turning pages, were the various characters in this ballet-driven narrative that blends unrequited love, the ideal of loyalty, personal disappointment, deceit and triumph.

The focal point is Joan’s infatuation with Russian ballet star Arslan Rusakov and her inability to convincingly let go of her feelings long after she has gone on to what can only be described as a normal life in the suburbs with her husband and son, Harry. Shipstead deftly portrays Joan’s transformation from an unhappy member of the (ballet) corps to contented, if not exuberant, resident of Southern California where she teaches ballet.

The story moves through different phases of Joan’s life from the mid-1970s to 2002. Arslan remains prominently in the background while the focus is on Joan, Harry, and Chloe, the girl next door. With Joan as their teacher, they ultimately become enamored with ballet so it becomes a force in their lives.

Again, the characters provide the strength of the novel. Chloe is particularly interesting as a young child and later as a young woman. Her parents may be caricatures of unfulfilled lives, especially her father, but their daughter consistently maintains a strong sense of self.

It also helps that Shipstead is an engaging story teller who incorporates humor (in small doses) and irony (in larger servings).

Astonish Me
Four Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2014
257 pages

 

Friendship’s Trials and Tribulations   Leave a comment

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Titles, like first lines, can make or break a novel’s appeal. Certainly, if Meg Wolitzer had called her most recent book The Borings, instead of The Interestings, it might not have garnered much attention (which it has). Yet, there’s something pretentious about it, which is just the tone – along with some irony – the author instills in this contemporary epic about friendship, love, human potential and disappointment.

Wolitzer’s account moves back and forth through time, but it all pivots around the beginning which occurs at a camp for the arts in the summer of 1974. “The Interestings” is the name six teenagers give themselves; it’s meant to separate them from everyone else in camp. They’re talented, to varying degrees, mostly privileged and self-absorbed. Even as they move through adulthood, they carry those same qualities. Yes, they mature and Wolitzer is at her best illustrating their personal struggles and triumphs, but they can’t quite shake idea of their old moniker.

The power of friendship, particularly among four of the six, is an underlying theme and it, more than anything else, drives the novel. The characters’ ability to fit in and accept themselves also delivers some impact.

The exhaustive story spans more than five decades in a way that’s reminiscent of Forest Gump. Instead of a sound track to identify the passage of time, Wolitzer relies largely on political events. Although the characters are interesting, it’s not as much as they think – or as much as we want them to be.

The Interestings
Four Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2013
468 pages