VARIOUS POSITIONS by Martha Schabas (Doubleday), 361 pages, $22 paper. Rating: NNN
I hesitate to refer to Various Positions as a coming-of-age story, because that makes Martha Schabas's debut novel sound smaller than it is. Yes, teen protagonist Georgia learns some of life's essentials, but the fact that almost everything happens inside an art institution - specifically a ballet academy - deepens the narrative beyond the "Ooh I feel sexual" level.
Georgia is a gifted dancer who gains admission to Toronto's Royal Ballet Academy - an obvious stand-in for our National Ballet School. Fortunately, she's better than almost everybody in the class. Unfortunately, that means she gets the attention of choreographer and teacher Roderick Allen.
In effortless prose laced with powerful metaphors, Schabas skilfully conveys Georgia's passion for ballet, its rigours and her confidence in her perfect body. The young dancer learns, however, that she's not in total control - of anything.
Schabas includes subplots on a student's struggle with body image and anorexia and Georgia's mother's mood swings, related - maybe - to her floundering relationship with her husband.
But the essence of the story is the relationship between Georgia and Roderick and the ease with which a teacher-student connection can go off the rails.
Various Positions is an impressive debut for the Toronto-based Schabas. You can tell by the precision with which she describes the students' terror of being judged and their strange mix of intense competitiveness and loving attentiveness to one another that Schabas herself is a trained dancer.
The book could use more characters as well developed as Georgia, and too bad Schabas leaves the plot thread concerning Georgia's parents dangling - not a good idea given its big impact on Georgia's behaviour.
But if you like novels about artists - whether accomplished or just budding - snap this one up.
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