In her second novel, Sheeran (Who Have the Power, 2006) explores a woman's fascination with the ballet world. Structured around a gala performance of the New York City Ballet in '88, the book titles each chapter with a piece from the program (as italicized paragraphs describe the dance on stage). In a story within the story, the action revolves around Susan, who is watching the performance. This voyeuristic subplot, which involves romance and backstage melodrama, as well as Susan caring for her dying mother, is a most interesting aspect of the book, which includes discussions of [George] Balanchine and the image of women in folklore and dance, [using] the sleeping princess as a motif throughout.
The book is impressive in its research, although Susan sometimes comes across as a walking graduate thesis on Balanchine. Sheeran captures the escapist nature of watching ballet as she delves into the artistic process. Her elliptical style takes some time to adapt to, and it succeeds, for the story moves, keeping the pages turning.
Sheeran presents a fascinating, unique vision of George Balanchine's work and the life of the imagination he shared with his audiences. She does it with an ultimately moving, intensely spiritual, and remarkably feminist story about a thinking, hurting member of the audience, Susan McFadden, who takes all the dancing to heart, which is where it belongs. Susan's (and Balanchine's) story reflects a spiritual longing shared by all in the theater. You'll never see a ballet (or, come to think of it, read a poem) in the same way again, but you'll want to watch ballet, again and again.
Quest of the Sleeping Princess
By Mary Sheeran
Publication Date: October 15, 2010
Retail Price: $15.95
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