The Complete Ballet

John Haskell. Graywolf (FSG, dist.), $16 trade paper (216p) ISBN 978-1-55597-787-0
Fiction and essay share the stage in Haskell’s captivating, erudite novel, both a metafictional history of romantic ballet and the story of a young man’s missteps in L.A.’s underworld. The unnamed narrator’s interest in dance comes from his daughter, whose tragic early death also broke up his marriage, sending him from Chicago to L.A. to build a new life as a masseur. Falling under the spell of the charming club owner Cosmo and his girlfriend Rachel, a dancer, he behaves recklessly, losing more money than he can afford in a poker game run by the mob. Entwined with this noirlike account are the narrator’s musings on the plots of famous ballets—including Giselle, Petrushka, and Swan Lake—and the lives of balletomanes (like Joseph Cornell) and dancers (including Anna Pavlova, Baryshnikov, Nijinsky, and Nureyev), which help the narrator reflect on the turns of his own life. In imaginative, analytical, affectless prose, Haskell gives new life to well-known stories danced onstage, constructing interiorities and motivations for the characters, and drawing connections between the emotions of the ballets and his narrator’s story (which to readers well versed in cinema may begin to seem familiar, too). Meeting a stranger, the narrator thinks that “I could see in her face the same kind of eagerness my daughter used to have, the same willingness Nijinsky had, to risk his common sense.” (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/24/2017
Release date: 09/19/2017
Genre: Fiction
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