18 Books to Watch for in May 2012

This month, we delve into the past with a reissued classic from W. Somerset Maugham, a found cookbook from Elizabeth Gilbert's grandmother, and new historical fiction set in WWI.
The Master's Muse
Photo: Philip Friedman/Studio D

The Master's Muse

256 pages; Scribner
Loving Frank was a novel about architect Frank Lloyd Wright's most scandalous love affair. The Paris Wife centered on the first Mrs. Ernest Hemingway. Into this group of well-researched novelizations of famous love lives comes Varley O'Connor's The Master's Muse (Scribner), about New York City Ballet artistic director George Balanchine. Narrated by the dance impresario's fourth and last wife, the ballerina Tanaquil Le Clercq—who contracted polio at age 27 and never walked (let alone danced) again—the novel closely follows the personages and events of the 20th-century ballet world: the longtime collaboration between Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky; the complicated relationship between Le Clercq and Balanchine's best frenemy, choreographer Jerome Robbins; the rise of such powerful performers as later muse Suzanne Farrell. In O'Connor's telling, Le Clercq never got over her forever passionate but only occasionally loving husband; though not always likable, she emerges as a proud but sad woman battered by life and love. As for Balanchine, he can be charming—a Russian-born aesthete, he particularly enjoyed American slang, like "hanky panky"—but more often comes off as petulant and manipulative, capable of showing his humanity only onstage. Which makes him just the kind of irresistible character we're better off meeting in a book than in life.
— Sara Nelson