Friday, March 30, 2012

Dancing on Broken Glass

By Ka Hancock
New York, Gallery Books, 2012
394 pages     Fiction

Dancing on Broken Glass is a family story—a family story of strength, bonding, support, and overwhelming amounts of love, caring, giving and sharing. Ostensibly it is the love story of Lucy and Mickey, two people with challenges—Lucy has a history of breast cancer in her family, and Mickey, who is seriously bipolar. But it is most definitely more than that, because much of Lucy’s family lives in the small community where they have chosen to settle down, so their love story includes many others.

The book has an interesting style format; the narrative framework, as well as Lucy’s story, is told in regular print, and Mickey’s story and psychological trials are in italics. It helps move the narrative journey along because the reader doesn’t have to second guess who is speaking. It also means that the end of the book is in italics, which makes it a bit difficult to read.

The title and the theme of the book come from a statement made by Mickey’s doctor when he says, “Lucy, every marriage is a dance; complicated at times, lovely at times, most of the time very uneventful. But with Mickey, there will be times when your dance will be on broken glass. There will be pain. And you will either flee that pain or hold tighter and dance through it to the next smooth place.” Beautifully written, don’t you think? And that is one of the ironies of this book; much of it is beautifully written.

On the other hand, Dancing on Broken Glass is a book of unremitting sorrow—so much sorrow that I could barely get through the book. Granted, I am more than a bit of a cynic, and I have experienced a lifetime of sorrow including death of a spouse, but nowhere have I experienced this much sorrow. Father dead as a young man, mother dead of cancer, a failed adoption, bipolar, and on and on and on. I know that it is supposed to be a novel of resilience and family ties, but my cynical brain was going: “Oh, for heaven’s sake.”

A lot of it hit pretty close to home for me, and it made me wonder if I was too close to the painful things the book explores. For instance, I have friends who are grieving the loss of a daughter to breast cancer; she died shortly after her baby daughter was born. I know their sorrow because they share it within the church community, and I frequently see that darling little girl who will never know her mother.

But, at the same time, when the pain and hurt just kept coming and coming, I wanted to shout, “Enough already!”  I tried to fathom what the author was thinking; I read a couple of interviews, including one in which she said that she was trying to express the ultimate commitment of marriage in a society where marriage and family are treated “casually.”  “Some may think it’s an idyllic view, but it’s so important. I believe that when you’re being your best self, when you understand yourself and really learn and understand the person you’re committed to, despite real, significant challenges, you can have something that lasts.”

One reviewer calls the book “a heartwarming journey,” but I have to say that my heart was not warmed, and I am not sure whose would be—perhaps people who like to cry their way through books. Maybe if I were younger and just starting out on the journey of my life, I would be inspired by the love of Mickey and Lucy and the odds they faced, but at this point in my life, I have perhaps seen too much and I didn’t need to be burdened by so much more sorrow. It was almost like reading the Book of Job over and over, but interestingly enough, without the accompanying religious faith.

In the end, I felt like the Kirkus reviewer said it best when she called Dancing on Broken Glass “a tidily crafted but treacly excavation of misery in the name of higher sentiments.” I had to look up the word “treacly,” which, it turns out, means cloying like molasses. That about says it all.

I received Dancing on Broken Glass from the publisher. I sincerely wanted to give it a stronger review, and I guess I would recommend it to people who are not nearly as cynical as me. On Hancock’s website she quotes a reviewer who says, “This book will break the heart of anyone who has one.” Ouch. 

The review in the Deseret News:
Ka Hancock’s website:

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