Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead (review by Andrew R. ’17)

Astonish MeAstonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A ballerina smuggles a celebrated Russian dancer away from his Soviet handlers and into the United States, where they have a tempestuous love affair; later, said ballerina raises a dance prodigy who himself experiences some painful romance, while all the while minor characters around them (the neighbors, the owner of the ballet company, more haughty defectors from the USSR) fall in and out of their own miniature romantic dramas. As a novel primarily focused on the way dance shapes the lives of those who dedicate their souls to it, Astonish Me sometimes seems to be taking place onstage, what with its preoccupation with beauty and drama and tangled romantic threads, rather than in the Cold War-era society it tries to recreate. That said, though, Shipstead pulls off the intertwining love triangles at the novel’s center with impressive success, and the resolution brought about in the last few chapters feels satisfying without coming off as too neat or too overblown. Fans of ballet, and probably of the domestic drama as a genre, are certain to appreciate this book, but to the wider population the tendency of Astonish Me to prioritize aesthetics over real character development might not be entirely appealing.

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