The Cranes Dance - Meg Howrey
Two things you should know about me are 1) I love ballet and 2) I love stories about crazy people. So when I find a book about ballet and crazy people, it's about the biggest jackpot since Black Swan came out.
Because ballet-bird allusions will never grow old, Kate Crane is a soloist at a prestigious unnamed New York City ballet company. Prior to the story, Kate's younger, more talented sister, Gwen, a principal dancer in the same company, goes back home to mom and dad after a nervous breakdown. Kate is wracked with guilt for failing to do more to help her sister earlier on. Because when your sister starts doing things like throwing chairs at mirrors, taping "X"s all over the apartment, having a full-blown panic attack at the sight of a mouse, and claiming her spotless apartment is too dirty for her to physically enter, little reds flags should be popping up signalling something is rotten in the state of Gwen. Kate eventually calls home and has her dad pick her sister up. So the story begins with Kate alone in NYC with nothing but her dancing and her guilty thoughts.
And that's about it really in terms of plot. It's a character-centric story so a majority of the action is very slice-of-life of a dancer in a company. Meanwhile we are also treated to a number of flashbacks of the events leading up to her sister's break. As such, the book moves sort of slow as there is no huge driving force behind it, aside from Kate's now deteriorating mental state (due, in part to a recent addiction to Vicodin). But it's a much more subtle descent than, say, I'M THE SWAN QUEEN! While it's not dark like Black Swan, there is a level of bleakness as Kate also falls into a existential crisis and there's an amount of "WHAT'S THE POINT?"
Aside from the slowness of the story, it's written well enough. The book is narrated by Kate to her "unseen audience" (AKA us), which I at first found kind of meh, because I don't really like it when narrators address the reader. It turns out, however, that Kate often images she is being observed by an unseen audience in order to force herself to retain her poise at all times, so it kind of fits. A lot of personality comes through Kate's narration, which is good in terms of character development, but also not good if you don't like her personality. I, personally, liked her--or rather, I liked reading about her. The book also begins with Kate giving you a snide overview of Swan Lake, which her company is currently performing. At first, I was like "not again", because every ballet story seems to reference Swan Lake and you'd think that's the only thing ballet companies ever did, and besides I know Swan Lake backwards and forwards (though admittedly, not everyone else reading this book does). But I found myself giggling throughout the description anyway because she also talks about the "peasant-dancing hoo-ha" and the awkwardness of ballet-mime to those who don't know ballet-mime. The company thankfully moves on to other productions soon enough, and the main(ish) ballet of the book ends up being A Midsummer Night's Dream.
If you're like me, and you've gone through every ballet documentary on Netflix and watch Dance Academy because you're secretly living vicariously through those crazy Aussie teens, then you will probably enjoy this book--at least on the level that it's a fairly detailed look into company life. I mean, the author herself used to be a professional dancer, so I'm pretty sure she would know.
If you're not so much into ballet, then the book might not grip you enough to keep reading up to the end, where it does pick up quite a bit, but, like I said, that's at the end.