Ballet flows through their veins. Dara and Marie Durant were dancers since birth, with their long necks and matching buns and pink tights, homeschooled and trained by their mother. Decades later the Durant School of Dance is theirs. The two sisters, together with Charlie, Dara's husband and once their mother's prize student, inherited the school after their parents died in a tragic accident nearly a dozen years ago. Marie, warm and soft, teaches the younger students; Dara, with her precision, trains the older ones; and Charlie, back broken after years of injuries, rules over the back office. Circling around each other, the three have perfected a dance, six days a week, that keeps the studio thriving. But when a suspicious accident occurs, just at the onset of the school's annual performance of The Nutcracker, a season of competition, anxiety, and exhilaration, an interloper arrives and threatens the delicate balance of everything they've worked for.
Taut and unnerving, The Turnout is Megan Abbott at the height of her game. With uncanny insight and hypnotic writing, it is a sharp and strange dissection of family ties and sexuality, femininity and power, and a tale that is both alarming and irresistible.
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My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Turnout by Megan Abbott is 2021 G.P. Putnam’s Sons publication.
Strange, Twisted, Hypnotic…
Dara and Marie run the Durant School of Dance, which they inherited from their mother- a famous ballerina. Dara's husband, Charlie, who has been with the family since he was a boy, runs the business end of things, as he can no longer dance.
Just as the casting for “The Nutcracker”, the most important performance of the year, is set to begin; a fire causes severe damage to the school.
Enter Derek, the man Charlie hires to repair the damage. Derek is a dark catalyst that exposes the deep differences between the sisters, and who seems privy to all their dark secrets, as he studiously begins to seduce Marie, drawing her out, giving her a boldness, she was never prone to before….
Okay, I confess, some reviewers gave me cold feet about this one. I have loved the other books I’ve read by this author and was a little worried about coming across one that turned me off.
I somehow managed to approach it with an open mind-despite my concerns.
Well, as much as I have mellowed over the years, I’m still able to tolerate, and even appreciate uncomfortable stories that make me squirm in my seat.
This book is very odd, no doubt, but almost has a 'noir' quality about it. It is centered around the exclusive and elusive world of ballet, chronicling unhealthy relationships that go beyond the pale.
Obsession, control, and manipulation are certainly common themes in novels, but creating an atmosphere that utilizes these devices in a way that makes one feel as though the suspense is nearly unbearable, is rare.
It creates a struggle in the reader- a desperation to put the book down and look away- but it also keeps one so entranced they can’t stop reading, despite the heavy dread of what twisted revelation awaits with the turn of each page.
Abbott is very good at exploring the underbelly of sports- cheerleading and gymnastics- for example. This book examines dancing, specifically ballet- to provide the backdrop of the story.
This is yet another extracurricular activity that young people- often girls- participate in as children, but on this occasion the group is more diverse, as male dancers are heavily featured as well.
Often these specialized groups are a tight knit enclave that outsiders can’t penetrate or understand. Giving readers an inside peek behind the closed door, allows us to divulge, guiltlessly, in a little voyeurism.
What we learn will normally strip away the glamorous veneer, and this book does do that, but, in my opinion, this story is more about the characters coping with a stringent lifestyle, carrying a heavy weight of guilt and shame, and the longing that comes with that kind of isolation… which could, and did leave them vulnerable.
The crimes are not original, by any means, but they are perhaps a catalyst that sends our characters to a reckoning of sorts, forcibly, maybe- but through the pain there is a promise of hope and long-awaited freedom from the demons of the past.
This is not a pretty story, any way you slice it. Ballet is beautiful, but we know by now there is a dark side to such beauty. I suppose some of us are just twisted enough to want to see what’s behind the curtain, what goes on behind the scenes, risking disillusionment, in the process.
I can't begin to guess what goes on in Megan Abbott's mind- but I doubt she’s intentionally trying to offend, I just think she’s a writer who explores the dark and hidden depths of humanity- and sometimes this reveals truths we might not want to know.
Anyway, I liked this book, despite the controversy and the mixed reviews. I don't know what that says about me- except maybe I haven't lost my penchant for dark crime fiction, just yet.
Overall, this one is not quite on par with the other books I've read by Megan Abbott, but still a mind tripping story that kept me riveted to the pages.
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