Fresh Air book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews the latest novel from Maggie Shipstead, Astonish Me. After reading her debut novel, Seating Arrangements, Corrigan likened the young author to “Edith Wharton with a millennial generation edge:”
At the center of Shipstead’s tightly choreographed story of frustrated passion and ambition stands Joan Joyce, a dancer whose gifts and discipline are good enough to earn her a place in the corps, but not to propel her into the spotlight as a prima ballerina.
When the novel opens in 1977, Joan has discovered she’s pregnant and she’s decided to keep the baby and leave the ballet. It’s an unforgiving world. Shipstead’s narrator relays Joan’s thoughts about how little she’ll be missed once the other dancers, who keep tight surveillance on one another’s bodies, notice her pregnancy: “When she stops dancing, class will continue on without her, every day except Sunday, part of the earth’s rotation. … Her empty spot at the barre will heal over at once.”
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