Books Every Joy-Seeking Woman Needs to Read
Maggie Shipstead's thrilling second book, Astonish Me, is an homage to, and exposé of, the exhilarating, punishing world of ballet; it's also a searing rumination on insecurity, secrecy, and friendship. The story line takes its inspiration from a real-life pas de deux: Mikhail Baryshnikov's passionate affair with American socialite Christina Berlin.' '
Shipstead juxtaposes the rigorous discipline of ballet with the recklessness of sexual desire. After becoming pregnant, Joan leaves New York, marries her childhood admirer, and moves to California, where she teaches dance. One of her most promising students is her young son, Harry, and as the years pass, his talent becomes a daily reminder of Joan's former life, ultimately forcing her to confront the decisions she's made and reckon with all she's left behind.
Though not a dancer herself, Shipstead nails the details of being perpetually en pointe: the adrenaline rush after a performance, the intimate atmosphere of the dressing room, the nagging feelings of inadequacy, the erotically charged and emotionally cruel competitiveness, and the inability to shake perfectionism long after retirement. Like a brilliant choreographer, she has masterminded a breathtaking work of art.