Sunday, May 17, 2015

Review: The Unexpected Waltz by Kim Wright

I have always been fascinated by the idea of ballroom dancing, despite not exactly being the embodiment of grace and poise myself. There's something elegant and classic about spinning seemingly effortlessly about the floor, shoes sliding and dress flaring. When my husband and I took a few lessons leading up to our wedding, we showed less than zero aptitude though and so I will be content to watch from the side as others swoop and twirl gracefully. The heroine in Kim Wright's novel, The Unexpected Waltz, doesn't just watch though, she immerses herself in the welcoming community and culture of ballroom dancing.

Kelly was widowed about a year ago and since the death of her husband, she's really been floundering. Over the past year she's come to realize that the person she was in her marriage is perhaps not an entirely honest reflection of who she really is. As the younger, second wife of a wealthy older husband, she has played her part as a society wife quite well, serving on committees, lunching with other wives, decorating her home and garden, participating in fund raisers, and so on. But in doing so, she's lost touch with the woman she once was, trading her once passionate life for stability and contentment. She is the woman who creates elaborate, if clich├ęd, tablescapes to grace every party and event she hosts, a clear metaphor for her own life--unoriginal but expected just the same. When she inadvertently walks out of a local grocery store with an apple she hasn't paid for in her hand, she turns around to make it right but accidentally walks into the ballroom dance studio next door instead of the grocery store. And just like that, her life changes.

Agreeing to lessons, Kelly is drawn to the discipline of ballroom dance, to the kindness and acceptance of the community she finds in the studio, to the trials and tribulations of her fellow dancers, and to the person that dance allows her to bloom into being. Her newfound love for dancing coupled with her volunteer work for Hospice and her interactions with Carolina, the young mother dying of breast cancer she visits there, helps Kelly slowly learn to make the life she wants, embrace moving on, and gives her a chance to find out who she really is both by visiting the unresolved past and looking to the future.

Kelly is a quiet character, not one given to flash, but her journey to discover the woman she's suppressed for so long is an appealing one. She takes honest stock of herself, facing her mistakes and failures as she does her soul searching. Only by accepting everything about herself, including the truth about her marriage, her age, and her previous stagnation will she be able to find the confidence in herself to go against her lawyer's words to her after her husband's death: "Nothing has to change." For Kelly, thanks to her reevaluation of life in middle age, things do in fact have to change. There are a lot of secondary characters in the book, many of them fellow ballroom dancers, but they mostly remain quick sketches with only brief touches on their lives. The description of the dance steps that Kelly tries to master can bog down some, especially for readers with no dance experience behind them. It's hard to capture something so physical and visual for the uninitiated. The pacing is generally slow, deliberate, and measured like the classic dances until the end when it becomes almost frenzied in its rush to wrap up. This is a sweet tale of unexpected interests, embracing change, and learning that it's never to late to move forward in life.


  1. I had the pleasure of attending an author event for this book. While this is a stand alone book, there is a prior book by the author that is about her best friend, and Kelly is included in that book. I think it's called Love in Mid Air. I enjoyed this book, especially since we don't often see middle age women as protagonists.

  2. Did she ever pay for the apple?


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