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Book: “The Turnout” by Megan Abbott
Publishing Info: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, August 2021
Where Did I Get this Book: The library!
Book Description: Bestselling and award-winning author Megan Abbott’s revelatory, mesmerizing, and game-changing new novel set against the hothouse of a family-run ballet studio, and an interloper who arrives to bring down the carefully crafted Eden-like facade.
Ballet flows through their veins. Dara and Marie Durant were dancers since birth, with their long necks and matching buns and pink tights, homeschooled and trained by their mother. Decades later the Durant School of Dance is theirs. The two sisters, together with Charlie, Dara’s husband and once their mother’s prize student, inherited the school after their parents died in a tragic accident nearly a dozen years ago. Marie, warm and soft, teaches the younger students; Dara, with her precision, trains the older ones; and Charlie, back broken after years of injuries, rules over the back office. Circling around each other, the three have perfected a dance, six days a week, that keeps the studio thriving. But when a suspicious accident occurs, just at the onset of the school’s annual performance of The Nutcracker, a season of competition, anxiety, and exhilaration, an interloper arrives and threatens the delicate balance of everything they’ve worked for.
Taut and unnerving, The Turnout is Megan Abbott at the height of her game. With uncanny insight and hypnotic writing, it is a sharp and strange dissection of family ties and sexuality, femininity and power, and a tale that is both alarming and irresistible.
Review: Megan Abbott is an author who I keep coming back to because of a couple good experiences. When I’ve liked her books, I’ve REALLY liked her books (titles like “The Fever” and “You Will Know Me” spring to mind), but when I haven’t they’ve clunked hard. And given that I have an undeniable love for ballet stories, especially if there is drama to be found along with the pas de deuxs, when I read the description for “The Turnout” I was absolutely down for giving it a go! Even if there was a bit of hesitation, wondering whether it would be landing more hot or cold, as with all other Abbott books I’ve read there is no in between.
“The Turnout”, in spite of the ballet drama, is bit more on the clunker side of things. But there are also aspects of it that I did like, and let’s start there. The first is that there is no doubt that Abbott knows how to create a deeply unsettling undercurrent with her characters. When we meet our trio of protagonists, sisters Dara and Marie and Dara’s husband Charlie, they are successful owners of a dance school that was founded by the sister’s mother. Immediately you get the sense that there is an underlying tension between all three of them, though the reasons why are hidden at first, and well tamped down in their minds and psyches. It gets under the skin, and it makes for a building tension, especially as things start to crumble, specifically when a contractor named Derek enters their lives after a fire and offsets the strained dynamic that they all have. I kind of figured what was going on, but I was surprised by some of the reveals that entered into the dynamic. And legitimately skeeved by it, without feeling like it was poorly done or melodramatic.
But on the flip side, there were elements that didn’t work for me. While I like that Abbott did some experimentation with the narrative, more telling the story in split paragraph chunks versus longer bodies of action, the construction felt a little disjointed at times. We would be in the same scene, the same moment, and really in the head of the same character, but we would have a jump on the page that didn’t feel like it was necessary. It would just take me out of the moment and make it feel jerky. Along with that, I didn’t feel like we got an even distribution of character development between our main players, specifically between the sisters Dara and Marie. Granted, this story is mostly from Dara’s third person POV, so we really got to know her (and I actually did find her compelling and interesting), but as for Marie, someone part of an arguably important pas de deux within the narrative (see what I did?), I really didn’t feel like we got enough insight into her character. It ended up feeling like her frustrating actions were more to drive the plot forward as opposed to being a foregone conclusion in terms of the choices that she would make based on what we know about her. Even by the time things did get expanded upon throughout various twists and turns, I STILL didn’t think that we got enough insight into Marie, and that made me more frustrated than anything else.
So “The Turnout” was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I think I retract my statement about it being a clunker, but it did leave me wanting more. So my relationship with Megan Abbott books continues to be a mixed bag, but mixed enough that I will probably keep giving her books a shot. If you have had a better experience with her work, this will probably click more with you than I.
Rating 6: Unnerving and brimming with unease, “The Turnout” is a suspenseful tale, but at times feels disjointed and strangely paced, and we didn’t get to know all the characters as well as I’d have liked.
“The Turnout” is included on the Goodreads lists “Can’t Wait Crime, Mystery, and Thrillers 2021”.