cover image Three Muses

Three Muses

Martha Anne Toll. Regal House, $18.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-64603-256-3

Loss, memory, and romance are explored in Toll’s bittersweet debut. In 1944, Janko Stein is an 11-year-old German Jewish death camp inmate who is spared because of his beautiful singing voice. That same year, in New York City, seven-year-old Katherine Sillman receives ballet lessons as a consolation after the death of her mother and later grows up to become an acclaimed prima ballerina, thanks to her Svengali-like choreographer, Boris Yanakov, who is also her lover. Janko, adopted by a New York City family after the war and renamed John Curtin, goes on to a psychiatric residency. In 1963, John and Katherine, now rechristened Katya Symanova, meet in Paris after John becomes entranced by her performance in Yanakov’s Three Muses. Back in New York, the two of them begin a heated love affair, but will they ultimately be separated by John’s survivor’s guilt and Katya’s allegiance to Yanakov? Toll is savvy in exploring how love can flourish in the face of trauma, but her theme is undercut by clichéd situations and dialogue (“You were born to dance”). Despite the pungent realism of the death camp setting and the vibrant depiction of the New York ballet scene, John and Katya feel a bit too wooden, with every emotion spelled out. It’s an ambitious if uneven effort. (Sept.)