Let this book go down in history as the one that made me decide to stop trying to find comp titles for the first novel in my series.
WARNING: Long and ranty and full of spoilers!
Where to begin.
Girl Through Glass, by Sari Wilson, is one of the few books that’s ever made me feel kinda dirty. The idea of the story was a good one, hence why I had this on my TBR pile. There’s an 11 year old girl, Mira, who throws herself into dance in the hopes of making it into SAB and eventually the New York City Ballet in the late 1970s. During this, she meets a “reclusive balletomane,” the forty-something year old Maurice, who becomes her mentor and friend. Okay.
The blurb alludes to something dark happening between them. Three guesses as to what. I mean, come on. Except. . .there is so much more to this situation. I have NO PROBLEM with age differences in relationships, but this isn’t even as straight forward as that. Not by a long shot.
Then the “other half” of the story takes place in modern times, with Kate, a dance professor who has an affair with a student and ends up running off to NYC to face some stuff from her past after getting a mysterious letter in the mail.
If you haven’t already guessed that Mira and Kate are the same person, well, surprise. I guess this was supposed to be a big twist, but I honestly had that figured out from the first time I read the blurb on the inside cover of the book.
Alright, so. . .why is this a novel that I can only rate 1.5 out of 5 stars? The writing itself was mostly fine, although the author occasionally engages in flowery, overly literary prose. You know I’m picky about ballet info, and this was factually sound, which makes sense since the author was herself a dancer (except for one scene where the center combinations begin with a petit allegro. . .which just doesn’t happen).
That’s pretty much all that was good.
The main character, Mira/Kate, is a bizarre, often unlikable person. Let’s talk about that “student affair,” shall we? I wouldn’t call it an affair, rather she freaking molests one of her college students. Yes, the student initiates everything, but that doesn’t make Kate’s actions excusable. And then she just runs away, and keeps running, off to NYC.
I’m not particularly sensitive to sexual abuse in stories since that’s something I’ve never experienced, but the way this whole thing was treated definitely bothered me. Before she leaves, Kate admits to the administrative assistant (I think?) from her department that something happened between her and one of her students, and this other person is just like “you still have a chance to talk to her and make it right,” before anything official is done. Wow, really? And as the novel continues, we find out that the girl who was molested DOES complain to the school *BUT* at the VERY end, we find out that the student just gets some counseling and decides to withdraw her complaint, instead turning the blame onto herself (?!?!) for her reaction to what went down (no pun intended). Like. . .WHAT? Really?? The whole scenario felt very, very slimy.
Speaking of slimy. . .the younger Kate’s relationship with the much older Maurice. It starts when she’s eleven. He’s just some dude that shows up at the ballet studio one day to watch rehearsal – he knows the instructor I guess? – but the next time she spots him, she starts following him. Why? Because she likes the way he watched her, or some creepy nonsense like that. And that’s how it starts; she starts going with him to restaurants, going to his apartment and dancing for him, showing him combinations from class and suchlike. The whole premise is supposed to be that her parents *never really see* her, except. . .once her father takes her away from her eccentric, artistic mother, and especially once he moves in with a new woman, he never seems like a bad guy. It seems like he and the new step-mom try, but then Kate turns snarky and snippy and so it never really makes sense.
But yeah, her and Maurice. It doesn’t start out sexual, but it’s still freaking weird. And then as Kate begins to get older and begins to mature, she’s the one that starts wanting to take their relationship further. By the time she’s 14, she already has a weird fetish for his bum leg (he has polio) and kisses him and stuff, which he just kind of. . .accepts. When she alludes to or tries to go any further with him, he stops her advances, but she freaking never stops trying. It’s not cool, and I don’t accept “my parents don’t love me enough” as an excuse. It was like some twisted version of Lolita, if Lolita herself was the aggressor.
Well, big surprise that eventually he rapes her and she immediately gets pregnant even though she’s anorexic* and decides to have the baby and gives it away for adoption. Oh, and immediately after the assault happens she like whacks him with an andiron or something so he’s in even worse shape physically until he dies years later. I. . .I don’t know.
Speaking of anorexia, the way Kate’s relationship to food and her body is treated is super confusing. We’re told a million times that she has no hips so I began to assume that she’s one of those lucky girls whose natural body shape is ideal for ballet and we could perhaps bypass the whole eating disorder storyline. When she gets to SAB, she even comments “Mr. B does not like anorectics” (lol wut), how one wants to be thin but not bony. Maybe this is supposed to be showing Kate’s naivete, because nothing could be further from the truth. In Gelsey Kirkland’s famous autobiography, Dancing On My Grave, she comments how Balanchine would routinely thump his fingers down girls’ rib cages and say “More bones. Must see the bones.” I’m pretty sure he didn’t give a shit how you made it happen, just that it did.
Okay, so Kate seems anti-ED and it doesn’t sound like weight is something she needs to worry about anyway. But, surprise, surprise, not too long later she’s pushing food around her plate when she’s out with Maurice, keeping food logs, refusing bites of the pie her step-mom makes. *Not everyone in ballet needs to have an eating disorder.* This really felt shoe-horned in and frankly it would have been refreshing to read about a girl for whom this was not the case (see also, my very own Whisky ::high five::)
But hey, it’s cool, because as soon as she leaves ballet after getting raped, she just starts eating normally like nothing ever happened. If she was truly eating disordered, the thoughts would not just up and go away overnight. Maybe this whole thing was meant to convey that she wasn’t anorexic, just on a very strict diet (there IS a difference)? I just don’t know. But like ballet itself, if you’re gonna write EDs, DO IT CORRECTLY. Nothing’s worse than the girl who magically recovers cuz that’s not how that works.
This whole book was just an uncomfortable and weird read. I can’t help but to feel that maybe part of my own, personal issue with a lot of modern novels is that I want these stories to be MORE, I want them to be fully fleshed out. I guess this is why I like epic novels and series so much. Because, as is, most of the MCs in Girl Through Glass seem like terrible fucking people. The secondary characters (some of them) were more sympathetic. But, if you read through most of my other TBR list reviews, I’ve felt similarly about characters in other stories. 300 pages isn’t enough space to create a believable, sympathetic anti-hero. Heck, this is why I no longer start my series in 1993, because when TJ entered the scene, people were like who the fuck is this asshole creeping on Whisky? I’d like to think that now, when people get to that point in Book Five, they *know* enough of TJ’s life and they *know* enough of Whisky’s life where things might still get uncomfortable, but you UNDERSTAND why events unfold the way they do. Try to condense that into 300 pages? I could never and wouldn’t want to try as I know it wouldn’t do my story or my characters justice.
So, I give up. Maybe I just selected a poor batch of books (and to be fair, I only read about half the books on my list), but I feel like I’ve been wasting my time. Might this be a red mark against me when I start querying? Perhaps, but I’m not going to stress over that. I think I’ll go pick up the new Stephen King book today instead, as his writing has always been a bigger inspiration for me than anything else. Pet Sematary was what got me to start putting my thoughts down on paper, even though I don’t write anything close to horror.
Thanks for reading my rant. Hopefully my next book review, whatever it’s for, will finally be a positive one!