Kate Crane is a soloist for a New York ballet company. Ambitious and driven, she and her sister Gwen have devoted their whole lives to ballet. But when Gwen has a mental breakdown, Kate is left alone in New York for the first time. As she reflects on her relationship with her sister and their sibling rivalry, the threads of her life begin to spin out of control.
I should start this review by saying that I had a reaction to this book that was very personal to me and led me to experience it in a different way than others would. Basically, I strongly identified with Kate. Like Kate I'm a perfectionist, I'm ambitious, I find it hard to share my feelings with others, I suffer with anxiety if I think my 'performance' is not perfect, I turn events over and over in my head and I can be emotionally unstable at times although I'm good at keeping it hidden. I'm not a ballet dancer but these facets of my personality have been directed towards different things during my life - getting top marks in school, graduating university as the top of my class, becoming a teacher and even to a certain extent building my blog up. I live in constant fear of being observed teaching as it's something you can never be perfect at no matter what you do and any criticism, no matter how constructive, latches on to my brain and looms larger than any compliments will ever do.
That said, I found reading The Cranes Dance to be an emotional experience. As Kate descended more into anxiety and extreme emotion, I was right there with her. Howrey described her emotions and thought processes so beautifully that I was completely swept along with and invested in Kate. I think even readers that don't identify with the main character in the same way would still be caught up in the emotion. Towards the latter sections of the book, I literally couldn't put it down because I had to know where Kate's journey would take her.
The sections dealing with Kate and Gwen's sibling relationship were very well done. I have an older sister I am close to and thought Howrey did a good job at explaining the mix of love, jealousy, competition, pride and admiration that can exist between sisters. I also enjoyed the ballet parts of the book, they were interesting but not over done, ballet was more the backdrop to the main story than the story itself.
Objectively, The Cranes Dance was too long in parts and risked losing momentum in the middle sections. Perhaps it wasn't the best idea to start with a long explanation of the story of Swan Lake, even if Kate's voice made it more fun. But I can't be objective about this book as I had such a subjective response to it and for me it was all about the emotion. This one packs a punch.
Source: From Vintage Books, via NetGalley.
Published: May 15th 2012
Score: 4.5 out of 5