Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Girl Through Glass.
Wilson’s novel is a ballet lover’s delight. Beginning in August 1977 with a young girl’s desire to be a “bun head” (a ballet dancer) and moving forward in time to the present day,
where dance history lecturer Kate Randall works to eradicate her past, Wilson’s unfolding New York melodrama focuses on the cult of beauty, the perfection of the dancer, and the creative passing of time. Amid charred rubber and plastic, a Manhattan of scorched bricks and the flesh of tires, eleven-year-old Mira Able’s desire to be a ballerina is single-minded. Her mother and father are devoted to her, but when their marriage crumbles, her mother moves in a young writer who seems to be a drifter and has a reputation for being sleazy.
As her home life begins to disintegrate, Mira finds security in the world of dance, auditioning for The Little Kirov Ballet School and later the School of American Ballet. Disappearing into this world, Mira comes to signify “the community of chosen”--a world of pre-pubescent bun heads officiated over by Ms. Clement, Little Kirov’s stern ballet mistress. At first, perhaps this is Mira’s fate: to see herself as the Flower Princess, on stage healing the Prince while she courts the attentions of Maurice Dupont, a wealthy older Manhattan benefactor.
This chance encounter--when Maurice first appears in the doorway of the studio in his charcoal-colored suit, with his tangle of bony fingers and his odor of talcum powder and spicy cologne--changes Mira’s life. From that first moment, Mira wants him to look at her, “making her feel more visible than she ever was.” Maurice’s steady hand brings Mira ever closer to the city’s glittering center of professional ballet. She thinks of him as the “little crippled man” who likes to watch her dance,
whose quiet apartment is filled with pictures of dancers and Pavlova’s pointe shoes. Maurice’s encouragement spurs Mira to dream of dancing with the Russians and with Baryshnikov under the giant spotlight. Like
The Nutcracker’s Herr Drosselmeyer, Maurice holds something to Mira, “this thing, a gift,” along with hungry adoring eyes that alight on her and “burn her into being.” These feelings form Mira’s unintended attraction that at first frightens and intrigues, then threatens to engulf her.
This drama of the past infiltrates Kate’s present life as she teaches Dance History 101,
talking about the great romantic ballets Giselle and La Sylphide. Like the girl who loses her mind and dances herself to death, Kate is drawn to passionate, tawny-skinned Sioban, who reminds Kate of herself in her twenties when she was “dancing modern” in San Francisco, both fearful and willing to try anything. The inevitable tension is caused by the arrival of a letter which at first panics Kate then gives her pause, leading her to recall Maurice with his “crushing weight” and the secret about him that once gave her power.
Readers looking for a fully-fledged, meticulously researched ballet story will not be disappointed. Although sometimes overly melodramatic, the novel is laced with its fair share of leaps and jetes and is at once intimate and curiously distancing. Part of Kate/Mira’s dilemma is how her life has become a testament to the universe of deception behind this one secret. Drawn to the illicit, she has carried this secret with her like a curse, preventing her from having a normal life. It’s not surprising that Kate decides to return to New York in an attempt to rediscover the people there from long ago. Perhaps they can help her put the pieces of her life back together.
While the world of ballet is the symbolic heart of this novel, also central to the story is Mira’s ineffable desire to be a dancer, a craving
for a world that is synonymous with being seen to be chosen. Even the wise and shadowy George Balanchine
(“Mr. B”) makes an appearance. Mira sees herself just like every other girl who lives for the day that he will visit their class,
run his eyes over the lot of them and stop at her, then magically elevate her to the likes of one of his muses. Between the blisters and calluses and the scent of Mr. B’s ballerinas, there’s a feeling of becoming something irrefutable, of being beautiful and of defying life.
I couldn’t help falling in love with Wilson’s novel and even Maurice, the story-book gentleman, Mira’s assumed older prince who waits for her in the lamplight by the fountain outside of Lincoln Center. From the guilt of past to the pain of beauty, the conclusion is like a return home, showcasing a gritty realism that nevertheless has a hope for the future, perhaps because Kate finally proves that she can survive and grow.