Although billed as a series of interconnecting stories, the characters connect only in the fact that they meet at a ballroom on Sunday nights. I kept waiting for some deeper connection, but with two exceptions, these were lonely, shriveled up, past their prime, solitary creatures whose individual tales related to each other only in their personal fantasies.
I really wanted to like this book, but it took quite a while for any relationships to develop, and when they finally began to emerge, they didn't go very far. Even the endings of the stories left me bereft. The ballroom, the dancers, the hangers-on, all of them seemed not to get what they were looking for, and it was hard for the reader to decide if the lack of closure was deliberate on the part of the author, or just not written well enough to bring some resolution to the reader.
I found the publisher's back cover blurb to be misleading.
Told in interconnecting stories, Ballroom is a beautifully crafted debut novel—reminiscent of the works of Elizabeth Strout and Jennifer Haigh—about a group of strangers united by a desire to escape their complicated lives, if only for a few hours each week, in a faded New York City dance hall.This opens the door to let us spy on the main players, but I just don't buy the implication that everything comes together in the end.
Time has eroded the glamour of the Ballroom, but at the end of the 1990s, a small crowd of loyal patrons still makes its way past the floor-to-ceiling columns which frame the once grand hall each Sunday evening. Sweeping across the worn parquet floor under a peeling indigo ceiling, these men and women succumb to the magic of the music, looking for love and connection, eager to erase the drab reality of their complicated lives.
Nearly forty and still single, Sarah Dreyfus is desperate for love and sure she’ll find it with debonair Gabriel Katz, a dazzling peacock who dances to distract himself from his crumbling marriage. Tired of the bachelor life, Joseph believes that his yearning for a wife and family will be fulfilled—if only he can get Sarah to notice him. Besotted with beautiful young Maria Rodriguez, elderly dance instructor Harry Korn knows they can find happiness together. Maria, one of the Ballroom’s stars, has a dream of her own, a passion her broken-hearted father refuses to accept or understand.
As the rhythms of the Ballroom ebb and flow through these characters’ hearts, their fates come together in touching, unexpected ways.
The quotes from various dancing handbooks and etiquette books at the beginning of each chapter were fascinating and gave us a excellent glimpse into the past glories of the art. There's an excellent bibliography of material about ballroom dancing in the book for those who want to delve further.
Author: Alice Simpson
Publisher: Harper Collins (2014) ARC 285 pages
Subject: Ballroom dancing
Setting: New York city and environs
Source: review copy from the publisher
Why did I read this book now? I was asked to do a review by the publisher.
This review is being provided in connection with the TLC Blog Tour. Many thanks to publicist Trish Collins from Harper Collins for making the galley available.