by Emily Kate Long
Meg Howrey’s novel The Cranes Dance (Vintage Contemporaries, on sale May 15) is the twisted portrait of New York ballerina Kate Crane, as told from Kate’s point of view. She is funny, stubborn, jaded, guilty. She is a dancer. She has a sister. She lies to herself. She questions her own sanity. She is trying to decide what she wants and who she should be. Even when I didn’t like her, I still liked her because I knew her. Reading this novel, I felt about Kate the way you would feel about your sister or a longtime friend, which is appropriate considering Kate’s love/hate/jealousy/admiration/guardian/saboteur relationship with her younger sister Gwen.
The reader is plopped down right in the middle of what turns out to be a pivotal season in Kate’s career. Howrey opens her novel with a hilariously irreverent description of Swan Lake: “…here we are in the Village Green of Wherever filled with people who like to greet each other maniacally every ten seconds and then in walks Prince Siegfried…” Kate’s description is that of someone who has become disenchanted with ballet’s magic on the one hand but on the other hand cares desperately about her work, although she isn’t always sure why.
We are introduced bit by bit to Kate’s sister Gwen, though Gwen as a character is never fully fleshed out. Kate alludes to Gwen’s final breakdown, at which point Kate feels compelled to call their father to take Gwen back home to Michigan where she is treated for an unidentified psychological condition. As the story progresses (related as Kate’s day-to-day mixed with flashbacks and background information concerning the events leading up to Gwen’s departure) Kate’s world is turned upside down with each discovery she makes about her role in her sister’s breakdown, her own mental state, and whether or not any of her relationships actually matter.
The motifs of acting and teaching weave their way in and out of The Cranes Dance effectively and sometimes with irony. Kate often describes body language as “the gesture for ___.” She herself is known within the company as more of the actress type than ballerina type. She imagines her whole life through the eyes of an imaginary audience, and is keenly aware of being observed by one of her young fans. For the reader alone, her armor is stripped away little by little until we almost get a glimpse of the “real” Kate. She is the dancer her colleagues turn to for critique, and she’s not afraid to tell the reader—or her boss, for that matter—just which direction the action should take.
At the close of Howrey’s novel I wanted one thing and one thing only: more of it! I literally started the whole thing over the day after I finished it—this book is seriously addictive. The Cranes Dance was a fast read at 372 pages. The story is peppered with pretty strong language and some sexual references and situations, and so seems most appropriate for late high-schoolers or older.
Author Meg Howrey is previously the author of Blind Sight, which The New York Times hailed as “a warm and inspired debut.” Formerly a professional ballerina and actress (who intrepidly arrived in New York alone at 15), Meg danced with Joffrey II in New York and the City Ballet of Los Angeles, among other companies, and was awarded the 2001 Ovation Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the national touring company of Susan Stroman’s Broadway hit Contact. Now a fulltime writer, she lives in Los Angeles.
BIO: Contributor Emily Kate Long began her dance education in South Bend, Indiana, with Kimmary Williams and Jacob Rice and graduated in 2007 from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School’s Schenley Program. Ms Long attended Milwaukee Ballet School’s Summer Intensive on scholarship before being invited to join Milwaukee Ballet II in 2007. She also has spent summers studying at Saratoga Summer Dance Intensive, Miami City Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, Pittsburgh Youth Ballet, and Ballet Chicago.
Ms Long has been a member of Ballet Quad Cities since 2009. She has danced featured roles in Deanna Carter’s Ash to Glass and Dracula, participated in the company’s 2010 tour to New York City, and most recently performed the title role in Courtney Lyon’s Cinderella and the role of Clara in The Nutcracker. Prior to joining Ballet Quad Cities Ms Long performed with Milwaukee Ballet and MBII in Michael Pink’s The Nutcracker and Candide Overture, Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty and La Bayadére, Balanchine’s Who Cares?, Bournonville’s Flower Festival in Genzano and Napoli, and original contemporary and neoclassical works by Tom Teague, Denis Malinkine, Rolando Yanes, and Petr Zaharadnicek.