It has been roughly three years since Megan Abbott released Give Me Your Hand, so fans are eager to snag a copy of her new novel, The Turnout. In many ways, this novel is a natural progression from her previous books looking at the culture of cheerleaders, gymnasts, and scientists. With The Turnout, Abbott turns her word-lens to the often-maligned arena of professional ballet with stunning results that only a writer as gifted as Megan Abbott could uncover.
The Durant School of Dance is a family-run ballet school with a strong reputation in an aging edifice. Dara and Marie Durant grew up as students under their mother’s leadership of the school, but since her tragic death years ago, they have kept the school running, aided by Charlie – a former student and now Dara’s husband – in the back room taking care of financial matters.
These three have formed a bond that works, keeping things going like clockwork. Megan Abbott refers to them as a trio so often that it becomes a leitmotif that echoes throughout the early chapters of the novel. When an accident at the school results in a fourth invading the sanctum of this group, trouble brews. It certainly does not help that this man is an ultra-masculine construction worker completely alien to the world of ballet. This ebb and flow of erotic energy is the propulsive fuel that leads to disaster.
The plot of The Turnout will only work if the two sisters have distinct and recognizable personalities, but fortunately there is no crime writer working today who is better than Megan Abbott at crafting female characters who are both authentic and unique. As sisters, Dara and Marie, have many similarities which make their relationship one of grudgingly mutual respect; but where there are differences, they often manifest at opposite ends of the spectrum resulting in almost constant conflict. Navigating these two extremes is not unlike dancing a pas de deux at the elite level in front of a sell-out crowd at a storied ballet institution.
Megan Abbott made a smart and considered choice in using The Nutcracker, a ballet that most everyone has at least heard of, for the backdrop of The Turnout. Through the eyes of Abbott’s characters, it is easy to view the Nutcracker himself as a symbol of sexual maturity, crossing that unseen barrier between youthful naiveté and adult desires. As the dancers vie for parts in the upcoming production, tensions and emotions hit peak levels. Using the holiday season as a backdrop for these conflicts stands in stark contrast to the joyous emotions typically associated with that season.
Megan Abbott has always been a wordsmith and The Turnout is no different. Her word choice, tone, and pacing hypnotize readers as though the musical prose keeps a steady rhythm of its own. One does not just read a Megan Abbott novel, one is consumed by it, becomes part of it, and ultimately is altered by the emotions she is able to unleash via it. Ballets often start with simple and beautiful storylines, but ultimately end in tragic love stories – Megan Abbott knows this and leads the reader down the destined path, with completely unexpected results. The Turnout is another masterwork in a career that contains no stumbles.
Disclaimer: An e-galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.