In her second novel, Sheeran (Who Have the Power, 2006) explores a woman’s fascination with the ballet world.
Structured around a gala performance of the New York City Ballet in ’88, the book names each chapter with a piece from the program. The action revolves around Susan, who is watching the performance (as italicized paragraphs describe the dance onstage) and is a story within a story. This voyeuristic subplot, which also involves singing, romance and some backstage melodrama, is the most interesting aspect of the book and could stand on its own. Yet a different part of the narrative has Susan taking care of her dying mother and being involved with ballet boosterism. The book covers many areas, including dance theory and history. The author uses letters to elaborate on Susan’s dance analysis and gives a complete bibliography to a character. The book also discusses artistic motivations, Balanchine, how dance is interpreted over time, what the dancer brings to the revival of a classic, music, the image of women in folklore and dance, Campbell’s Masks of God series and the use of the sleeping princess as a motif. The book is impressive in its research with quotations throughout, but sometimes Susan comes across as a sort of walking graduate thesis on Balanchine. Sheeran captures the escapist nature of watching ballet and the identification of the audience with the dancers. With an autobiographical slant, the author also delves into the artistic process of singing and indulges her interest in Balanchine (she has performed Songs From the Balanchine Repertory). Her elliptical style takes some time to adapt to, and the many layers of the book can make it challenging for the reader to know whether he is in Susan’s mind, outside the theater or with her mother. But the story moves along, keeping the pages turning.
A mixed bag that succeeds in spite of itself.