Debut ballet novel: Girl Through Glass Burns Bright

Leigh Donlan reviews:

It has been said that we are only as sick as our secrets. The wounded must relive the trauma on the path to healing. Sari Wilson’s debut novel, Girl Through Glass, is this kind of psychological journey against the backdrop of the rarefied world of ballet.

She challenges the idea that beauty inevitably leads to suffering. A former ballet dancer herself (Wilson trained with the Harkness Ballet in New York and was on scholarship at Eliot Feld’s New Ballet School), she quickly captivates the novel’s reader with her melodic timing and tone, rendering even the most horrifying depictions with elegance and grace.

The tale weaves together two narratives: a third person observation of Mira, a young and gifted ballet dancer who grows up in 1970’s Brooklyn and goes on to become an exalted “Mr. B girl” at the School of American Ballet, handpicked by George Balanchine himself. The second narrative is told in the first person by Mira who – 30 years later – goes by Kate and struggles with a fractured sense of identity, trust issues, self-destructive behaviors, and problematic relationships.

Kate is on the verge of being fired from her college dance faculty position. Having received a mysterious letter that sends her into a panic, she writes,”There is a universe of deception behind one secret. Not all secrets see the light of day. My life is a testament to that.” She continues, “Why am I drawn to the illicit, the secretive? It’s like a curse I can’t shake no matter how far I’ve come. What have these secrets cost me? A normal life, and intimacy of a typical kind.”

The young Mira, growing up in an unstable home environment, gravitates toward a mysterious man who sees her potential and recruits her to join SAB. She finally receives the attention she’s longed for. Yet it comes at an immeasurable price. He tells her, “A star is only a star because it burns brightly in the dark night. Against the dark night. At home in the dark night.”

At times, Girl Through Glass reads like a disturbed, modern-day fairytale. Yet it is more than that – a searing portrait of 1970’s New York City and the changing landscape of American ballet in George Balanchine’s final years. Her descriptions of the inner workings of the most exalted ballet schools, like SAB, are spot on. And her ability to articulate how dance feels, how music feels is magnificent, a pleasure for anyone to read, especially dancers.

An intense and creatively rendered portrait, Girl Through Glass is captivating. Even readers who haven’t gone through traumatic experiences like Kate’s will be convinced by Wilson’s powerful writing that one can be saved by the very thing that haunts them. And how we can grow to love the most unlovable aspects of ourselves and become whole again. Kate concludes, “What of that time in my life? It is finally past. The guilt is past and the straining after beauty. But do I regret it? I find with surprise, that I can’t.”

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