Astonish Me {Maggie Shipstead}

Astonish Me

Prior to reading Astonish Me, I had never heard of Maggie Shipstead…nor had I heard of any of her previous works. I happened to stumble upon this book recommendation from, believe it or not, flipping through US Weekly. Yeap…not New York Times, US Weekly. Admittedly, I was first drawn to picking up this book because the story is set in the fascinating world of ballet {I love dance}.

Quick synopsis – The story centers on American ballerina Joan, and gradually unfolds where we’re taken into her passionate relationship with world-renowned and respected Russian dancer Arslan Ruskov, who she eventually aids in defecting from the Soviet Union to the United States. After things soured between her and Arslan, coupled with the fact that she lacks the technical abilities that are required of a prima ballerina, she leaves New York and found peace in Southern California where she teaches ballet. However, after watching her son Harry grow into a ballet prodigy himself, she is eventually brought back into the world she thought she had left behind and is forced to reconnect with her past.

While I love the character developments throughout the book {though the love stories felt a teeny bit soap-operish}, I found myself being more drawn not to the main characters Joan and Arslan, but the supporting characters in Elaine and Mr. K. I found the dynamic between Elaine and Mr. K much more intriguing. I also like how Shipstead incorporates the stereotypical ambitious, disciplined, and neurotic characteristics of dancers in her characters. Considering the story as a whole takes place over a few decades, I thought Shipstead did a great job with the pace…up until the end. I thought the ending was a bit rushed and not well fleshed out. Though the ending also felt slightly contrived for me, it didn’t take away the whole experience of the book. It’s an entertaining read I would recommend, especially if you like anything ballet, and I would be interested in checking out another of Shipstead’s work.