The Master’s Muse
In 1956, 27-year-old Tanaquil Le Clercq is at the height of her career. Principal dancer of the New York City Ballet and married to the company’s famed artistic director, George Balanchine, she dances ballets created especially for her. But, while on a European tour only three years into their marriage, Tanny contracts polio and, though she survives, she learns she will never walk again. George quits the ballet for a year to care for her and strengthen the rest of her body through exercises of his own devising. Tanny adores George, and his attention helps her to emotionally come to terms with her condition, but as he returns to the New York City Ballet without her, their marriage and her self-resolve are tested. George continues to train young, talented dancers while Tanny must watch from her wheelchair the career that could have been hers.
I like novels highlighting women largely forgotten by history, and this was a fascinating portrait. I’d read of George Balanchine before, but nothing of Tanny, his fifth wife. She was a strong woman equally passionate about dance and George, which made her paralysis and her husband’s gradual withdrawal all the more heartbreaking. O’Connor, the daughter of a polio survivor, writes from a place of experience. Coupled with her careful research of the ballet world, the story feels real without ever getting heavy-handed. Tanny’s narrative voice is solid, just as tough and engaging as the character herself, and carries the story along. An enjoyable read overall.