DUMBO

New novel explores demands of professional ballet

Brooklyn BookBeat: Author To Speak in Brooklyn

April 3, 2014 Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Maggie Shipstead, whose debut novel “Seating Arrangements” won the the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction, will soon release her second novel, “Astonish Me” (Knopf; April 8), a gorgeously written, fiercely compelling glimpse into the demanding world of professional ballet and its magnetic hold over two generations.

Shipstead will speak about her book in Brooklyn on April 10 at DUMBO’s powerHouse Arena, in conversation with Brooklyn author Adelle Waldman, and then again on April 25 at Williamsburg’s Videology, where she will introduce the film “Center Stage.”

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“Astonish Me” is the irresistible story of Joan, a young American dancer who helps a Soviet ballet star, the great Arslan Rusakov, defect in 1975. A flash of fame and a passionate love affair follow, but Joan knows that, onstage and off, she is destined to remain in the background. She will never possess Arslan, and she will never be a prima ballerina. She will rise no higher than the corps, one dancer among many.

After her relationship with Arslan sours, Joan plots to make a new life for herself. She quits ballet, marries a good man, and settles in California with him and their son, Harry. But as the years pass, Joan comes to understand that ballet isn’t finished with her yet, for there is no mistaking that Harry is a prodigy. Through Harry, Joan is pulled back into a world she thought she’d left behind—back into dangerous secrets, and back, inevitably, to Arslan.

Combining a sweeping, operatic plot with subtly observed characters, Maggie Shipstead delivers a novel of stunning intensity and deft psychological nuance. Gripping, dramatic, and brilliantly conjured, “Astonish Me” demonstrates Shipstead’s range and ability and raises provocative questions about the nature of talent, the choices we must make in search of fulfillment, and how we square the yearning for comfort with the demands of art. 

The April 10 event will begin at 7 p.m. The powerHouse Arena is located at 37 Main St. in DUMBO.

The April 25 event will begin at 8 p.m. Videology is located at 308 Bedford Ave. in Williamsburg.

Maggie Shipstead is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. Her first novel, “Seating Arrangements,” was a New York Times best seller, a finalist for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, and the winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction.


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