Published by Harper
Publication date: January 26th 2016
Genres: Debut, Fiction, Literary, Mystery
In the first chapter of Girl Through Glass, we meet Kate, who tells her story herself. She is in her early forties, a teacher of Dance History at a college in the Midwest. But in chapter two the novel slides back to 1977 and it is about eleven-year-old Mira who is trying to keep her balance between her unstable home life and the ballet school she loves. Burdened with an inattentive artistic mother and a father who cannot deal with his marriage, dance is Mira’s only outlet and she is so good at it. Light and bright, it is the only aspect of her life that makes sense—tell your body what to do and it does, work hard, get better. Her accomplishments bring her to the attention of Maurice, an older gentleman who supports her school and who takes her seriously about the dancer she wants to be.
For as much as Mira’s life is laser-focused, Kate’s seems to be all over the place. She enjoys teaching but is still an adjunct professor and makes some poor judgment calls with a student. Her attempts to get a grant flounder and, when in the midst of this, she receives a letter from someone in her past who she thought was dead she is pulled back into a past she wanted to forget. In contrast, Mira’s dreams are on a fast track to coming true. With Maurice’s guidance she is chosen to attend the School of American Ballet and soon is noticed by the renowned George Balanchine himself.
As author Sari Wilson moves between the past of Mira and the present of Kate she uses to great effect the lingo of the ballet world (the girls call themselves bunheads for their ubiquitous hairstyle) and the complex psychology behind that world. Waifish girls perform extraordinary feats of strength and agility while maintaining beatific smiles in the face of pain and crushing disappointment. Mira’s problems lie less with her physicality than with the confusion the teenage years bring. The continued attention of Maurice and her fanatical devotion mean larger roles in various ballets and interest from ballet companies, but at what cost? With the acclaim comes pressure from all sides and, ultimately, Mira begins to struggle:
Compared to transcendence, what is happiness? He is right about that. He is always right. What would she do without him to keep her on the track of the beautiful, the true dancer?
I’m not sure I can remember the last time I got so far into a novel without being sure if I liked it or not. The Girl Through the Glass often comes together like the Titanic and the iceberg in great bashing, grinding clashes caused by two different points-of-view in different time frames and different times-of-life. Add to that a mystery that is buried so deeply it’s uncertain it even exists and a protagonist who is at once sympathetic and manipulative. You’re either talking genius or this ship is going down. I’m still not certain which I think it is which, for some will be intriguing enough to try it, but for others may mean, much like the desire to become a ballerina—too much work.