Girl Through Glass
by Sari Wilson
published by Harper Collins
Sari Wilson’s debut novel, Girl Through Glass, is not your typical dance book. In fact, its wonderful atypical-ness is what sets it apart. A lot of dance stories (fiction or non-fiction) shed light on the intoxicating world of professional and pre-professional dance, many written from personal experience. While Girl Through Glass certainly has that aspect to it, it is much more than that. It is a narrative about a complex human journey, set within a dance frame, which from the very beginning is shrouded in mystery. Wilson challenges the reader with much more than a linear recounting of details, she persuades them to connect two independent, yet completely interdependent stories.
These two through lines unfold simultaneously, though exist at different points in time - two people of differing ages (pre-teen Mira and adult Kate), in separate decades (one late 1970s/early 1980s and one present day) on distinct dance-related career paths. In the first few chapters, it seems possible that the title characters might actually be separate individuals who just happen to have some similar experiences. Both have a desire for something more and an awareness of surrounding forces. Controlling (and often inappropriate) relationships abound as does self-destructive behavior. Abandonment, hidden trauma and personal recovery are also shared realities. But early on, it becomes clear that Mira and Kate are in fact, the same person. While this is definitely one of the book’s first surprises, it isn’t one of the major revelations. Those deeper mysteries and unpredictable situations are still yet to unravel. And Wilson’s brilliant storytelling creates a vibrant and exciting pulse – the reader eagerly anticipates what portion of the narrative will be divulged in each of the subsequent chapters.
Wilson inserts clever devices throughout the book to link Mira and Kate’s plotlines, including a subtle and parallel hand injury. And in the middle of Girl Through Glass, both are in New York City, though still separated by decades – Mira auditioning for Balanchine at the School of American Ballet and Kate on a mission for answers. It is at this point that Wilson begins to unpack how and why Mira became Kate. She does this not by immediately revealing the exact events that took place, but instead by filling in the missing decades. Through the recounting of these ‘in between’ years, Mira/Kate’s saga is fully told. Some of it had been foreshadowed while other pieces were unexpected and surprising. We learn that Mira/Kate leaves New York and SAB and joins her mother in San Francisco. We see Mira choosing a new first name – a beautifully written moment of contrast. There is unremarkable simplicity as she decides on ‘Kate’ but the choice itself had been the result of a complicated and traumatic upheaval. Kate eventually gets involved in the contemporary dance scene of the 1990s. I particularly like the way Wilson describes SF/Bay Area modern dance because it sounds very much like how it is today. The descriptors are different to be sure – experimental is now collaborative, new media or physical theater – but the picture she paints is a familiar one. Kate then feels the pull of the academic world and decides to pursue that avenue. In this section of the book, the reader discovers what circumstances have altered Kate’s life. And even in light of all that has happened and is happening, Wilson’s Girl Through Glass concludes on a note of hope for Kate.
Girl Through Glass is a wonderful addition to the ever-growing (and increasingly popular) dance fiction genre. And it isn’t all tutus and toe shoes. Sari Wilson has crafted a novel with grit, one that is a myriad of memory and realization.