BLACK DANCE by Nancy Huston


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A family history unfolds in the form of a screenplay spanning three generations and several countries.   

Huston (Infrared, 2012, etc.) opens the novel in a hospital room where Milo Noirlac, a renowned screenwriter, is dying. Milo’s co-writer and director, Paul Schwarz, visits, and they begin writing their final screenplay. The present action of the novel remains in this one room as it fills with stories from the past. Structurally, the novel is highly complex. The screenplay follows three subplots, each with its own protagonist: Milo’s grandfather, his mother and Milo himself. Early on, Paul states his philosophy of film: “For the first ten minutes, the audience is infinitely tolerant and will accept whatever you choose to flash at them.” Chapter 1 of the novel embraces this concept, forcing the reader to weave the threads together and jump through time and space, from Ireland to Canada and back again. The language is lyrical and takes full advantage of the novel-as-screenplay form. Time passes in a series of montage images layered with a character’s voice-over. With Milo’s mother, the camera takes on her point of view so that the reader is always in her body, experiencing her trauma. The ugliness of the scenes, which depict rape, child abuse and bloody revolution, contrasts sharply with the beauty of the prose in a rich and engaging way. In each subplot, however, there are scenes that feel melodramatic and heavy-handed. Paul, speaking to Milo, provides metacommentary on the screenplay throughout their writing and often points out these over-the-top moments as well as weak dialogue and scenes they will need to revise or cut. In this way, the novel allows for some flaws in the story, though they are still frustrating to encounter. In addition to the already complicated three-pronged plot structure, each chapter is titled with the name and definition of a capoeira term. The significance of capoeira is not immediately clear. This becomes yet another layer added to the narrative, which begins to feel weighed down under the pressure of too many guiding structures. 

The rich content gets slightly buried in the complex structure of this ambitious novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 2nd, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2271-1
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Black Cat/Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2014


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