book review: The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey



Vintage Books, 2012


The Cranes Dance follows Kate Crane, a soloist in a professional ballet company in New York, where she dances alongside her younger and more talented sister Gwen. But Gwen has recently suffered a nervous breakdown and returned home, and now alone for the first time, Kate feels unmoored and on the verge of some kind of collapse herself, even though her sister’s absence could allow for advancement in Kate’s own career.

I already forgot that I finished this book last night which I think speaks to how anticlimactic I found the ending, but otherwise, I just loved this. I don’t know the first second or third thing about ballet so I’m afraid I can’t comment on how accurate of a portrayal this was, but I’m inclined to believe that former professional ballet dancer Meg Howrey knows her stuff. The ballet scenes were electrifying to read at any rate.

But the best thing about this book for me was its protagonist Kate – I probably went into this expecting to be more intrigued by Kate’s sister Gwen, talented and tortured, who remains a sort of shadowy figure in the background throughout Kate’s story, but it was actually Kate herself that was the heart and soul of this novel. Her narration is snarky, hard-edged, honest, and surprisingly vulnerable, and I found myself rationing my reading of this so I could spend more time with her. The pacing could have used a lot of work – about 100 pages could have been cut easily and never at any point could I figure out how much time was passing between chapters – but ultimately, for a character-driven novel it got the job done, because I was so invested in this character and in Howrey’s candid portrayal of mental illness and its many manifestations.