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The beauty of motion The Cranes Dance'

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Novel offers behind-the-scenes look at ballet

As a reader, picking up the second offering from an author whose debut I enjoyed is a mixed bag. Sometimes, the writer picks up right where he or she left off, continuing onward and upward in their literary journey. Other times more times, frankly the descent begins as the author grapples with the law of diminishing returns.

Take Meg Howrey, for instance. Her debut was a novel called 'Blind Sight.' It was excellent; well-written, thoughtful, literate fiction. So I had high hopes for her sophomore effort 'The Cranes Dance' (Vintage; $17.95).

I would not be disappointed.

Kate Crane is a soloist in one of the preeminent ballet companies in New York City. She is engaged in a constant struggle to maintain her place in a difficult and demanding world despite being unsure if she even wants to be there at all. She deals with injuries both physical and emotional as she strives desperately to stay afloat.

Then there's Gwen. Gwen is Kate's sister; a fellow company dancer and transcendent talent. Gwen is a once-in-a-generation dancer. She is also suffering from significant mental instability; only those closest to her such as her sister can see beyond the talented veneer to the pain beneath the surface.

And through it all, weaving in and out of the foreground but ever-present in the story, is the ballet. Ballet is the mistress that they all serve, even without quite knowing why. Kate's quest to find the truth about what she wants, about who she is results in tearing through a tumult of envy, obsession, prideand love.

Howrey is a writer of vision and clarity whose skills seem to be on the increase. She showed herself to be an understanding and capable chronicler of family dynamics in 'Blind Sight,' but takes that understanding to new heights with 'The Cranes Dance.' Kate Crane is a beautifully flawed woman; one who grasps most, but not all of her own shortcomings. It's not easy to be surpassed by a younger sibling especially one as high-maintenance as Gwen but Kate deals with it as well as anyone could. Her love for Gwen always outshines any anger or irritation in the end.

Howrey's professional dance background serves her well here; her words build the ballet into something vividly, viscerally alive in the pages of 'The Cranes Dance.' It's a minutely-detailed glimpse behind a curtain that most of us would never get otherwise. Granted, everything we see is skewed by the sarcastically sharp prism that is Kate Crane, but it all feels very truthful words that are describing something lived rather than imagined. It makes for terrifically compelling reading.

'The Cranes Dance' is a heartfelt and heartbreaking work. Howrey's prose reflects the balletic nature of the book - a foundation of technical precision overlaid with passion and subtlety. She provides a willing and talented partner with whom the reader might dance.

I read this book in a day. One day. I picked it up and then simply could not stop turning pages until there were no more to turn. It was in turns light-hearted and gripping. Kate Crane is nuanced and fascinating. Her relationships with her sister, with her friends, with ballet itself enthrall as they unfold. There's truth on every page.

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