Review: “The Cranes Dance”

You know, compared to the classic tomes and presidential biographies I normally read in any given year, the novels on my current #TBRlist are a freaking BREEZE. That’s probably why it’s not even March and I’ve already crossed three off my list!

So. Today’s review is of “The Cranes Dance: A Novel” by Meg Howrey, and I’m giving this one 4.5 out of 5 stars. SPOILERS BELOW!!

Some background on me, in case you’re new to my blog and social media: in middle school and high school, I was a junior company member with my state’s largest professional ballet company.  During my time, the company had a limited repertoire, and unfortunately, Swan Lake was not a show we did (they did it the year after I left, of course). Although I had to quit towards the end of high school because literally every part of my right leg was self-destructing, I returned to dance again and again during both college and my life afterwards. I still, at the age of 36, take adult classes at Boston Ballet when I need to be in town overnight.

Therefore, I’m familiar with all the odd ins and out of ballet classes, and performing, and the ballets themselves, even those I didn’t get to experience first hand. Several reviews have criticized Howrey’s opening chapter, in which she explains to the reader the story of Swan Lake, from the POV of a dancer. It’s a riot, and 100% accurate. Brava.

Aside from that, we learn that Kate and Gwen Crane are dancers with a super prestigious NYC ballet company, but that something happened to the latter, so we’re only getting the sister’s side of the story. Gradually the story unfolds and we begin to understand what happened that caused Gwen’s leave of absence.

A lot of what’s in this story rings true – the ballet stuff is spot on and I am PICKY – and she doesn’t fall for the “everyone is miserable” trope, thank God. When we start getting glimpses into Gwen’s mental illness, as someone who’s both experienced such things and done a lot of research on a variety of afflictions for my own series, those details also ring true (although we never learn, even by the end, her official diagnosis).

Things I wasn’t crazy about: You knew, as soon as Kate started wearing some of her sisters’ clothes, that this was going to go along the path of “she’s starting to become her sister.” I didn’t know how exactly, but I knew it was coming.

The popping Vicodin thing. The only part that I genuinely did NOT like here, for legit reasons, was that she’s developed a pretty serious habit by the end of the novel and then. . .time passes and all the happy-ish, hopeful end stuff occurs and not once is there a word about her dealing with no longer using. Addictions are not that simple to kick, not to mention, she would have gone through SOME type of withdrawal as Vicodin/hydrocodone is an opiate and getting off that stuff is no joke. I would have liked at least SOME acknowledgement of that.

Never eating. Ballerinas eat, I hate to break it to you. It’s never spelled out in big bold letters, but it is HEAVILY implied that she’s anorexic. And the scene where the young dancer that looks up to her also throws away her untouched muffin – no bueno. Real? If she is ED’d yes, but rubs me the wrong way nonetheless.

I had to read the ending a few times. She appeared to finally be going off the deep end, perhaps overwhelmed with guilt over her role in her sister’s downward spiral, or. . .something.  Like, this all happens after she finally talks to her sister on the phone, something she’s claimed to want. Her sister is finally doing well, and randomly “Rage overtook me.” (p. 338) Like. . .why? And so, having just talked to her sister and thinking about her sister’s suicide attempt (where her sister steps off the chair she’s about to hang from and tells Kate to do it first so that Gwen can watch *her* for once) somehow drives *her* to be suicidal. She’s completely nuts before and during her next performance.

And of course, later on, when the director makes her a big offer, which gets her to change her mind about killing herself, he tells her that “the intensity. The sharp edges. The desire” (p. 362) came back with her over the past few months, you know, while she was going crazier and crazier: the whole “insane dancer does an amazing job” thing, which I also take some issue with.

Overall: It probably sounds as though I didn’t like this, but it’s a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars. As with the previous book I read, I really enjoyed this until the last handful of pages which somehow tied up a little too neatly after all the tumultuousness that happens before.

Could this be a comp title? I’d have to give it some thought. It’s realistic fiction, it’s geared towards adults, it’s the performing arts and mental illness and drugs. . .yeah, I don’t know. I’ll have to consider it, though I’ll have to read it a time or two more to get a better handle on more specific comps than those generalities.

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