Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen

OK, I'm going to try to insert a picture ... and I'm pretty sure that it didn't work (Preview isn't showing me anything). So here's the link: http://www.abcgallery.com/D/degas/degas50.html.

I started Marie, Dancing this weekend, a fictionalized account of the unknown model for one of my favorite works of Impressionist art. And -- while I was just waxing on about Stephen Briggs and how his portrayal of the Wee Free Men enhances my appreciation for Wintersmith -- here is the opposite situation. Just step away from the microphone and let us read this book.

Carine Montbertrand did a great job as Cyd Charisse in Gingerbread and Shrimp -- she has that sassy, mouthy modern teen to a tee. Imagine how I am wincing at listening to her use that approach with this story. (Now granted, the author has included much modern speech in this book: her use of the verb "to dump" when referring to another dancer's string of conquests, for example). So, it's OK for Marie (who's last name is not intelligible enough for me to be clear on what it is exactly) to sound like a 21st century teenager if the author is portraying her that way. No, what's jarring is the interspersed French -- the ballet terms, the street names, the character names, the bits of conversation (oui monsieur) -- with the modern teen voice. This book, this narrator can't decide which world it wants to be in, and so it fails at either world.

I'm about a third of the way, through ... and it's truly a shame, because the story of Marie is quite compelling. She's more than a spunky heroine, she's an interesting human being. I'm learning about the Paris Opera Ballet and Degas' relationship with its dancers. Even the Cassatt sisters have made an appearance.

I just read a blog posting about M.T. Anderson where his disgust at how we underestimate the intelligence and inquiring minds of teenagers was quoted (here's the blog: http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=544#more-544), and thought how Marie's story, too, was (as my mother says) sexed-up [and dumbed down] for a modern reader.

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