Monday, October 6, 2014

Book Tour: Ballroom

Here's what's unique about Alice Simpson's debut novel Ballroom: it almost feels like we're reading a collection of short stories. We're introduced to a group of characters, loosely connected by one commonality—Sunday nights at the Ballroom. We experience their lives in small doses, in particular moments that reveal their past and present and identify just who they are.

But instead of sharing only brief but detailed snippets of our characters' lives, Simpson continues beyond the limits usually imposed by the short story. In a novel-length narrative, with short chapters switching focus from one character to the next, we are given a complete look at several lives and the one thing they all share—a love of dance.

The time period is supposedly the late 1990s (according to the book jacket!), though with all the jumping back and forth between past and present, it's difficult to stay put in this particular moment. It's easy to see, though, that this is a moment in the past when times weren't so different from the present, but modern customs of communication haven't yet entered the picture—cell phones, emails, and texts aren't a social norm. The story revolves around six very different individuals who each find comfort in the weekly dances at the Ballroom. For each of these characters, dance represents everything they're looking for in life—love and excitement, a future of happiness.

Their lives all seem rather drab. Harry Korn is a crotchety old man, living with a fantasy of his young neighbor, Maria. Maria longs to be accepted as a professional dancer, hungry for the excitement it will add to her life. Angel, Maria's dance partner, has big dreams for his life, and the Ballroom provides the control and certainty that he's often lacking. Joseph longs for a wife but some serious mommy commitment issues always stand in the way. Sarah is desperate for the glamorous life found in old Hollywood films, and especially desperate for the passionate love story part of it. Gabe is the suave, sexy one that always seems to be in the distance—the one whose attention you desire because it means you are worth looking at. But beneath his aloof persona, he's got a troubled marriage and declining parents.

I say this book is like an extended short story because, ultimately, there is no real plot. The Ballroom is what brings all of these people together, but it's more of a backdrop to their lives than a backdrop to the story's action. There is no real action. I enjoyed the style of this book, because I do like the detailed character portraits that short stories often do so well. Despite my lack of sympathy for any of these characters (they had few redeeming qualities), I was drawn into their lives and curious as to how they ended up. Ballroom reminds us that an unremarkable plot doesn't mean that nothing is happening; it may be quiet on the surface, but individual lives are rarely so uncomplicated.

This post is a stop on the TLC Book Tour of Ballroom! You can visit the tour page to learn more about the book, its author, and find a list of the other tour stops. This tour is almost over, so if you're intrigued, be sure to read through the many great responses so far!


HeatherTLC said...

I am a fan of short stories for many of the reasons you mention, and I like when they are held together by some overarching connection such. And dancing is just so fascinating!

Thanks for being a part of the tour.

alice simpson said...

Hi Kari,

Loved your review and wanted to thank you.
You understood the characters, understood that they were an ensemble, weaving in and out of one another’s lives like the ballroom itself.

Life has no plot, at least mine doesn’t, we make decisions, select paths, hope they will get us where we want to go. There is a book on my shelf “20 Master Plots (And How to Build Them)” by Ronald Tobias. As a librarian, reader and reviewer, you know what they are! Like you, I am more interested in people’s lives, what drives them, makes them unique.

My favorite line in your review is, “it may be quiet on the surface, but individual lives are rarely so uncomplicated.”

Thanks you so much,

Still dancing,

BuriedInPrint said...

My favourite line in the review is the same one that Alice Simpson quotes above. That's my favourite kind of fiction to read, too: the quiet and complicated kind.