Hardcover, 304 pages
A beautiful debut, Ballroom follows a group of strangers, united by a desire to escape their complicated lives (if only for a few hours each week) at a New York City dance hall that’s about to close its doors for good.My Thoughts:
The Ballroom used to be a place to see and be seen, but the years have taken their toll, and by the end of the 1990s this Manhattan dance hall, just off Union Square, is a husk of its former self. A small crowd of loyal patrons still makes its way to the worn parquet floor every Sunday evening: although they each have their private reasons for returning again and again to the Ballroom, they are united by a shared desire to seek solace from reality, if only for a few hours, within its walls—and in the magic of dance.
Nearly forty and still single, Sarah Dreyfus is desperate for love and sure she’ll find it with debonair Gabriel Katz, who seduces the women he meets at the Ballroom to distract himself from his crumbling marriage. Lonely bachelor Joseph believes that his yearning for a wife and family will be fulfilled—if he can only get Sarah to notice him and see that he is in love with her. Obsessed with his building superintendent’s beautiful daughter, Maria Rodriguez, elderly dance instructor Harry Korn is convinced that together they will find the happiness that has eluded him throughout his life. And Maria, who—thanks in part to Harry’s instruction and encouragement—is one of the stars of Sunday nights at the Ballroom along with her partner, Angel Morez, has a dream of her own that her brokenhearted father refuses to accept or understand.
Ballroom by Alice Simpson is a recommended novel only for those who enjoy character studies of the disagreeable and ballroom dancing.
In Ballroom, a debut novel, we meet a cast of characters who gather to dance at The Ballroom. All of them are loyal patrons who love to dance, even if for most of them it is simple a way to escape their sad, dreary lives and create superficial connection with others. We also meet 65 year old Harry Korn who has been teaching 20 year old Maria how to dance since she was a child. Harry is under the illusion that he and Maria will run off together when she turns 21. Maria has a dance partner, Angel, and they are winning trophies together even as Maria finishes college and heads off to grad school. Sarah is a lonely woman searching for love with a dance partner, while Joseph is a lonely man who thinks his dream of a family will be realized through a dance partner at the Ballroom. Gabriel is a man who is seducing women he meets to escape from his real life.
While Simpson does a good job at characterization, I couldn't relate to or sympathize with even one of these characters. They are all so sad and unlikeable, even young Maria, and desperately wanting to change their lives but totally ineffectual and impotent to do anything concrete. Frankly, I found the whole Harry and Maria plot line repulsive, disgusting, and creepy, which might have worked had Simpson used that feeling in the plot, but, alas, she doesn't.
This is one of those novels where the quality of the writing is good, the characters are there, but then nothing is really done with them. We learn about their past, and their dreams, but then nothing is brought to a satisfactory conclusion. There is no big dramatic ending or plot twist.
The opening of each chapter is prefaced by quotes from old school books on ballroom dancing etiquette and the whole story is infused with dance. Those who enjoy ballroom dancing and can see how the steps in each dance can mirror life might find Ballroom a more satisfying novel than I did.
If you visit Alice Simpson's website you will see that Ballroom began as an Artist Book and you can see a picture of the cover and one of the exquisite watercolors. In fact, I am much more impressed and in awe of her art work than this novel.
Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher and TLC for review purposes.
TLC Ballroom Tour