I was enthralled with The Cranes Dance by the end of chapter one. Meg Howrey beautifully utilizes the first person narration style to tell the story of ballet dancer Kate Crane who is dealing with a crazed younger sister (who happens to be a better dancer than Kate); a recent neck injury (that leads to her popping her sister’s Vicodin); and a bad—at first—breakup with her longtime boyfriend (but she’s better off without him!).
After you get past Kate’s sarcastic, critical explanation of Swan Lake, Kate delves into a stream of consciousness tale about her life up to that moment and how she’s dealing with the traumatic things that have happened to her. Her increasingly suicidal sister Gwen has an incident resulting in a mutilated leg. Kate sends her off to their parents so they can deal with her. She feels intense guilt about how she’s treated her sister, and refers the reader to so many different incidents so they can cast judgment on her. But once you’ve been sucked into her psyche, it’s hard to judge her too harshly.
Howrey’s prose style was deeply reminiscent of Bret Easton Ellis (especially the run-on sentences that cropped up). Her nonlinear story felt more like a collection of moments (great and small) held together by the narrator. Kate was especially easy for me to relate to not just because she made references to Lost, the Oz books, and perfectly incorporated the term “cunt-off” into the story—and even an Alice in Wonderland epigraph!—but also because her dry sense of humor and ease with language puns made it so enjoyable to read (and kept me up into the wee hours of the morning because I could not put it down).
As Kate begins to rely on the Vicodin too much in dealing with her neck pains, she begins to grow detached from the world around her—she soon resembles American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman. Her extensive life as a dancer seeps into the rest of her life as she continues to use the gestures she previously mocked. “I made the gesture for fondness, cupping his face with my hands.” Her friend Mara begins to grow worried about her, and when confrontations occur, the reader begins to wonder what tragedy might unfold by the end of the story (one can’t help but think of the dramatic events depicted of ballerinas in Black Swan).
As a former dancer, Howrey easily depicts the world of dance and uses the terms so vividly that the reader can easily imagine the dances coming to life. And, while this may seem like a cheap ploy to capitalize on the increasing pop culture obsession with ballet (see also: Bunheads, Breaking Pointe), The Cranes Dance is definitely worth reading. And I’ll definitely be taking Kate’s advice and not let my children take up ballet.