By Terez Mertes Rose
Genre: Women’s fiction (with YA crossover), performing arts related
Alice thinks she’s accepted the loss of her ballet career, injury having forced her to trade in pointe shoes onstage for spreadsheets upstairs. That is, until the day Alice's boss asks her to befriend Lana, a pretty new company member he’s got his eye on. Lana represents all Alice has lost, not just as a ballet dancer, but as a motherless daughter. It’s pain she’s kept hidden, even from herself, as every good ballet dancer knows to do.
Lana, lonely and unmoored, desperately needs some help, and her mother, back home, vows eternal support. But when Lana begins to profit from Alice’s advice and help, her mother’s constant attention curdles into something more sinister.
Together, both women must embark on a journey of painful rediscoveries, not just about career opportunities won and lost, but the mothers they thought they knew.
OFF BALANCE takes the reader beyond the glitter of the stage to expose the sweat and struggle, amid the mandate to sustain the illusion at all cost.
The beauty, depth and accuracy of this story rendered me speechless. Even now I am struggling to retain one comprehensible thought to put down among the millions of thoughts this book engendered. At first glance it is about ballet, but anyone who has ever taken on the demanding, unforgiving master that is ballet will understand that this book is about artistic passion and drive, messy and complicated dynamics of human relationships, and life altering events that I think are an extension of what an actual ballet performance is all about.
I am assuming that the author danced as I did because I can't imagine anyone being able to articulate so flawlessly the pressure and tension of rehearsals gone wrong, the constant need for improvement, the unbending toll the dance takes on the body, and the insane competition one deals with even after they become a professional dancer. Nor can anyone describe the fluid motions, the nuances, the freedom and the emotional highs a dancer experiences when they've hit everything just right, when the positions and placements are prefect-so perfect it resonates within them and through them to the audience-and they're truly in sync with their dance partner. This author provided all of that and more.
Alice is a wonderfully complex character with a host of baggage she hasn't truly dealt with after her injury and the resultant ending of her ballet career. To devote your life to such a demanding profession and then lose that profession to an injury is devastating. I was proud of her for attending Lana's ballet performance, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried with her as I remembered the first time I went to see a ballet after five years of avoiding anything to do with the profession. It was Swan Lake, and I ate every single choreographed movement up while aching inside because I wasn't the one performing it. It's partly the reason why I hesitated to read this book. I knew what kind of toll it would take emotionally.
Lana is vulnerable and fragile, but her resilient nature carries her through some incredibly difficult family dynamics. Her ability to accept hard truths and make choices that place her as a player rather than a pawn made her character so likable. I wanted to watch her succeed, and I cheered for her the entire way through the book. Her friendship with Alice, though rocky at first, becomes a beautiful partnership of strength, trust and encouragement.
This story is about two women who must help one another with the obstacles they face. Lana reminds Alice of what she has lost, of who she could have become, but Lana becomes the catalyst for all of the acceptance and healing Alice is in need of. Lana can't escape her manipulative mother and the crushing weight of her familial responsibilities, but Alice is key in helping her understand that her life and her ballet career aren't selfish choices to make, but worthy goals to pursue. Eventually she is able to confront the wrongs her mother has regularly committed over the years and find the courage to protect her siblings from a mentally ill parent.
There are villains waiting in the wings, there to manipulate and distract, but the standards these women set for themselves and the smart choices they make serve to help them, not only in their careers, but in their love lives as well. You will love and hate Gil. You will love and hate Niles. In the end you'll find that love prevails in a healthy natural way. What a breath of fresh air that was.
Yes, at first glance one might think this book is simply about ballet, but I think any reader, dancer or otherwise, will find the nuances of life and the dynamics of human frailties intricately woven into this spectacular novel, a symbiotic relationship, much like partners in a beautiful dance.
For lovers of beautifully written, thought provoking novels, Off Balance is absolutely a must read. I plan on reading it again while I put on some old pointe shoes and relive a few glory days.
Terez Mertes Rose has created an artistically accurate portrayal of ballet and the players involved. I'm definitely going to continue on with the series to see what more she has in store for me.
I gave it five cherry blossoms.
Terez Mertes Rose is a writer and former ballet dancer whose work has appeared in the Crab Orchard Review, Women Who Eat (Seal Press), A Woman’s Europe (Travelers’ Tales), the Philadelphia Inquirer and the San Jose Mercury News. She reviews dance performances for Bachtrack.com and blogs about ballet and classical music at The Classical Girl. She makes her home in the Santa Cruz Mountains with her husband, son and too many cats. She loves good food, good wine, and a good (but not too hard) adult ballet class. She also publishes under the name Terez Rose.
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