I received this book free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Turnout by Megan Abbott
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on August 3, 2021
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Also by this author: Dare Me, The Fever
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.
“It was the three of them. Always the three of them. Until it wasn’t. And that was when everything went wrong.”
Marie, Dara, and her husband Charlie all work together at the Durant School of Dance in addition to living together in the girls’ childhood home until Marie moved out abruptly a few short months ago. She didn’t go far, however, taking up residence on the third floor of the school; an area only accessible via an old spiral staircase. The third floor used to be the domain of their late mother, a woman that even in death holds a strange thrall over the trio. After an ancient space heater caused a fire at the school, they’re forced to shut down one of the studio’s because of the excessive damage. They hire a contractor that woos them with wondrous imaginings of what their school could become, a far cry from the antiquated state that its been in since their mother was a teacher. He ends up becoming a far larger part of their lives when Marie develops an eerie obsession with him.
“What is it, Dara kept asking herself. What is it we’ve let in our studio, our mother’s studio. My sisters’ bed. My sister’s body. Our lives.”
The dynamic between the sisters was incredibly unusual, ripe with the feeling that you were missing something, some story, to clarify the strangeness. But honestly, “strangeness” is putting it lightly. The abundant amount of sexual references and detailed descriptions permeated this story and it was more than just a little disconcerting especially when it involved the children in their classes or recollections of their own sexual experiences as children.
“You build this family. And it’s perfect. It’s everything you wanted. And then something goes wrong. Slowly or all at once.”
Abbott’s stories always have a creeping wrongness to them, stories that go wrong slowly. You know it would be foolish to expect anything resembling a happy ending but the path to get there is languid and full of holes. There was a time when I enjoyed that type of story, one that simmers endlessly, with no boiling point in sight. I think that time has passed for me because Abbott’s stilted and fragmented way of storytelling has become more grating than anything. As always with Abbott, the twist was quite unpredictable, but I disliked such a large portion of the book that any twist was unlikely to change my mind.