I had so much fun reading Maggie Shipstead’s first novel, Seating Arrangements, that I picked up her second, Astonish Me, the following month. I confess that I expected something very like Seating Arrangements–a perfect mix of humor and bad behavior. And this second novel is like Shipstead’s first in that her writing is technically just as good. The story itself, however, is less fresh.

The novel spans two decades, beginningĀ  in the 70s in New York City, where we join a young ballet dancer and her friends as they navigate life in an elite dance company. Our heroine, Joan, falls in love with the world-famous Aslan, a Russian dancer who has just escaped his home country to join the ballet in New York. But it’s not a relationship that will stick, and Joan knows she will never be a soloist. So she moves on.

The story is told non-linearly, switching between Joan’s life dancing in New York and her life after she leaves the company. She marries, she moves away from New York, she has a child, she teaches ballet. Her son takes her classes and when, as a teenager, he moves to New York to dance, Joan’s old and new worlds collide. The results are intense, even melodramatic.

The problem with the novel is that the characters are a little empty, a little too stereotypical. They weren’t as engaging, as simultaneously likeable and flawed, as the characters in Seating Arrangements. And… I have to say that I didn’t care for the ending, which I found unsatisfying and even a touch distasteful. Overall, it was an enjoyable read, and I’ll probably read Shipstead’s next book, but this one doesn’t make it to my list of favorites.

 

 

 

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