Simpson brings to life the vibrant essence of the Ballroom, a once-grand dance club in late 1990s New York City, in her debut novel.
Every Sunday night, Simpson's six characters head to the Ballroom; they all know each other on a superficial level but don't share the deeper secrets and longings they carefully hide behind their groomed facades. We get to know them as we hear their stories in alternating chapters, as in Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge. Harry, old and alone, lives a private life in his top-floor apartment; when he shares a secret with young Maria, it eventually comes to light with tragic results. Maria finds salvation in her longtime dance partner, Angel. Dull Joseph, never married, yearns for insecure Sarah, who’s been married three times, while Sarah dreams of married playboy Gabriel. There remains an emotional divide between partners, despite the physical intimacy of the tangos, salsas and waltzes they share. There’s sexual tension but little true closeness. The Ballroom is a place of rampant hopes and dreams that seldom get fulfilled, in spite of the dancers' efforts. The characters strive for what they want, but most have no real sense of how to get it. Simpson is a master at creating realistic characters who are flawed, a bit unappealing and yet sympathetic. Life goes on much in the manner in which it began. But this isn't a bad thing—it feels real, even refreshing, not to have a neatly wrapped, feel-good ending—but rather a plain old life-goes-on.
Readers who enjoy seeing inside the hearts and minds of others will relish sharing the lives of Simpson’s creations.