Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Review: They're Going to Love You by Meg Howrey

I am about as graceful as a duck in a tutu, wobbly and pigeon-toed but that doesn't stop me from being attracted to books set in the professional dance world. There's something so dreamy about ballerinas, pancake tutus, pointe shoes, and the seemingly effortless way they glide across a stage. But all that ethereal grace and art hide a tough and punishing underside: stress on the body, serious athletics, hard work, body expectations both for weight and height, dedication, and a short professional window. Meg Howrey's remarkable novel of a father and daughter's relationship, They're Going to Love You, revolves around this competitive and unforgiving world.

Told from the perspective of an adult Carlisle, and alternating between her past and present, this is a story of family drama, love, belonging, betrayal, the sometimes fragile bond of the parent/child relationship, finding peace, and ballet. Carlisle is the daughter of a former Ballanchine ballerina and a noted choreographer. Her parents divorced when she was young and she only got to see her father and his partner James for a few weeks in the summer. She adored life with her father and James, who recognized her natural talent and mentored her in the dance world. She wanted more than anything to belong to them and to their NYC dance world, despite the devastation that AIDS was wreaking in it, and she seemed to be well on her way to becoming a professional ballerina herself. But something happened both professionally and personally and she's been estranged from her father and James for years when she receives a phone call from James telling her that her father is dying and she should come back to NYC to say goodbye.

The cause of the estrangement is only slowly revealed as Carlisle relives for the reader the summer that the rupture occurred. She's a fascinating character and the novel is first person so we see all of her hestitations, questions, and regrets. It's easy to see that even as a 40 or 50 year old woman, she's still looking to be someone's first choice (James is her father's first choice and her step-father and half brother are her mother's). As she prepares to go to New York to see her father again, can she put the past aside, forgive, and finally choose herself no matter what awaits her? The ballet pieces are interesting and technical, but not too technical for non-dancers. The writing itself is elegant and balletic and the story presents common themes in intriguing new ways.

This novel is one of the Women's National Book Association's Great Group Reads for 2023.

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