Astonish Me is the irresistible story of Joan, a young American dancer who helps a Soviet ballet star, the great Arslan Rusakov, defect in 1975. A flash of fame and a passionate love affair follow, but Joan knows that, onstage and off, she is destined to remain in the background. She will never possess Arslan, and she will never be a prima ballerina. She will rise no higher than the corps, one dancer among many.
After her relationship with Arslan sours, Joan plots to make a new life for herself. She quits ballet, marries a good man, and settles in California with him and their son, Harry. But as the years pass, Joan comes to understand that ballet isn't finished with her yet, for there is no mistaking that Harry is a prodigy. Through Harry, Joan is pulled back into a world she thought she'd left behind - back into dangerous secrets, and back, inevitably, to Arslan.
Combining a sweeping, operatic plot with subtly observed characters, Maggie Shipstead gives us a novel of stunning intensity and deft psychological nuance. Gripping, dramatic, and brilliantly conjured, Astonish Me confirms Shipstead's range and ability and raises provocative questions about the nature of talent, the choices we must make in search of fulfillment, and how we square the yearning for comfort with the demands of art.
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Maggie Shipstead is a solid writer but Astonish Me lacks the juiciness the story of a ballerina's love affair would require in order to be interesting. It's difficult to care about any of the characters. Seating Arrangements was delightfully juicy, as well as deftly crafted and well written. This one's just...well written.
"Starred Review. A supple, daring, and vivid portrait of desire and betrayal." - Booklist
"The story proceeds with a quiet insistence that is matched by the inevitability of its denouement." - Publishers Weekly
"Explosive... Shipstead moves her story back and forth in time with the same seamless precision found in the details of a beautiful ballet, capturing the brutality of the training, the impossible perfection on stage, and the messy fallout that erupts when personal and professional lines blur." - Library Journal
"Like its subject, the ballet, this book is intricately choreographed, technically demanding, yet seemingly relaxed, written in a prose of great emotional range and acuity. I will be paying close attention to Shipstead's career from here on in." - Jeffrey Eugenides
"In this exquisitely rendered story of love, loss, betrayal, secrecy, and artistic ambition, Maggie Shipstead takes hold of the reader and doesn't let go. Astonish Me is a haunting, powerful novel." - Dani Shapiro
"Maggie Shipstead's prose is so graceful and muscular, so dazzling, so sure-handed and fearless, that at times I had to remind myself to breathe. Astonish Me is a treasure of small surprises." - Maria Semple
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Maggie Shipstead is a novelist and short story writer. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and a former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford. Maggie's writing has appeared in The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, Tin House, The Paris Review Daily, VQR, American Short Fiction, The Best American Short Stories, and elsewhere. Her story "La Moretta" was a 2012 National Magazine Award finalist. Her debut novel, "Seating Arrangements," was a national bestseller and the winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize and the L.A. Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction.
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