Archive for the ‘Maggie Shipstead’ Tag

Life Pirouettes   Leave a comment


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



Wedding Nightmares   5 comments

Seating Arrangements

Anyone planning a wedding in the next few months, or ever, might consider avoiding Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead; but they would be missing a fun, albeit satirical, and poignant look at families under stress.

Shipstead’s debut novel focuses on Winn Van Meter, father of the bride-to-be, in the three days prior to the ceremony. Winn is a banker, a Harvard man whose greatest disappointments are that he didn’t have sons and has yet to be granted membership in a private golf club. His daughter Daphne, seven months pregnant, is marrying Greyson Duff. That name alone suggests privilege, which is an apt description for the entire wedding party.

The nuptials are taking place on a fashionable island off the New England coast. The Van Meters have long had a vacation home there, although, as it turns out, the Duffs have their own island. Yet, the only character concerned with one-upmanship is Winn. And, perhaps, his younger daughter, Livia, who was recently dumped by her boyfriend, Teddy Fenn – whose father, Winn surmises, is responsible for obstructing admittance to the private club.

Shipstead’s multiple talents lie in her ability to create distinct voices and flaws for each of her characters. The cast of which include friends, family, and the Fenns. Biddy Van Meter, Winn’s wife, is the voice of reason while humoring her husband. However, her patience and fortitude wane as his attraction to one of the bridesmaids waxes.

In Shipstead’s hands, humor and heartache are worn with the ease of a properly fitted cummerbund.

Seating Arrangements
Four Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2012
302 pages