Maggie Shipstead. Astonish Me

ISBN 13: 9780007525379

Astonish Me

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9780007525379: Astonish Me

From the author of the widely acclaimed debut novel Seating Arrangements, winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction: a gorgeously written, fiercely compelling glimpse into the demanding world of professional ballet and its magnetic hold over two generations.

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 gives us a novel of stunning intensity and deft psychological nuance. Gripping, dramatic, and brilliantly conjured, Astonish Me confirms 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.

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Review:

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, April 2014: “Etonnez-moi (astonish me)!”--was the great ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev’s command to his collaborators and dancers, and it’s just what this insistent, subtle novel did to me. A confession: I may have been the only reviewer who was not blown away by Maggie Shipstead's best-selling debut, Seating Arrangements. So this sophisticated, intelligent novel was an astonishing discovery. On one level, it tells a straightforward story, of a young woman in the 1970s who fought her way into the professional ballet world, helped her Russian dancer/sort-of boyfriend defect, and then left the ballet, married a “civilian” and raised a son who turned out to be ballet-obsessed. But it’s also an insistent and deft look at passion and art, a book about growing up and facing your limits and getting on with life. That it’s set in the dance world--an irresistible venue even for those of us who performed neither toe nor tap--is just the bonus to a novel that already hit the jackpot. --Sara Nelson

About the Author:

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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