In her fifth book, Amelia Gray crafts a historical novel based on the life of the mother of modern dance, Isadora Duncan. The story begins in 1913, when Duncan is at the height of her fame, both as a dancer and as a free-spirited woman. She is mother of two children, both born out of wedlock, and is in the process of starting schools to teach her concepts of what dance should be: a combination of technique, emotion, spirit and freedom from traditional form. She lives in Europe, though she was born in the U.S.; she admits to being bisexual in a time when such activities were considered salacious and scandalous; she loves her children, but refuses to marry the father of either.
That year, in a sudden tragedy, Duncan’s children, Deirdre and Patrick, die in a terrible accident, along with their nurse. Gray picks up the story at that moment and paints a portrait of maternal grief that is visceral and devastating. As Duncan begins to unravel after losing her children, Gray shows each step, from Duncan eating their ashes mixed with various dishes to her attempts to have another child.
The writing is unflinching and strong, as the story careens around family and fame, art and the artist, the dance between life events and their expression in art. Yet, in spite of a richly imagined story, the novel feels empty, as if, like Duncan’s dancing, the words pirouette across the page—daring and experimental—but sadly, they find no entry into the heart.