Astonish Me (Signed Book)

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Overview

From the author of the widely acclaimed debut novel Seating Arrangements, winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize: a gorgeously written, fiercely compelling glimpse into the passionate, political world of professional ballet and its magnetic hold over two generations.

Astonish Me is the irresistible story of Joan, a ballerina whose life has been shaped by her relationship with the world-famous dancer Arslan Ruskov, whom she helps defect from the Soviet Union to the United ...

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Astonish Me

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Overview

From the author of the widely acclaimed debut novel Seating Arrangements, winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize: a gorgeously written, fiercely compelling glimpse into the passionate, political world of professional ballet and its magnetic hold over two generations.

Astonish Me is the irresistible story of Joan, a ballerina whose life has been shaped by her relationship with the world-famous dancer Arslan Ruskov, whom she helps defect from the Soviet Union to the United States. While Arslan's career takes off in New York, Joan's slowly declines, ending when she becomes pregnant and decides to marry her longtime admirer, a PhD student named Jacob. As the years pass, Joan settles into her new life in California, teaching dance and watching her son, Harry, become a ballet prodigy himself. But when Harry's success brings him into close contact with Arslan, explosive secrets are revealed that shatter the delicate balance Joan has struck between her past and present.

In graceful, inimitable prose, Shipstead draws us into an extraordinary world, and the lives of her vivid and tempestuous characters. Filled with intrigue, brilliant satire, and emotional nuance, Astonish Me is a superlative follow-up to Shipstead's superb debut.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Advance Praise for Astonish Me:
 
“Etonnez-moi, Diaghilev famously challenged Jean Cocteau: ‘Astonish me.’ That’s a fair description of what Maggie Shipstead did to me on nearly every page of this impressive novel. 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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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385353700
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/8/2014
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Maggie Shipstead
MAGGIE SHIPSTEAD was born in 1983 and grew up in Orange County, California. Her highly acclaimed debut novel, Seating Arrangements, was a national best seller and the winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize as well as a finalist for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and a former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford. In winter 2012, she was a resident at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, Tin House, The Paris Review Daily, The Virginia Quarterly Review, American Short Fiction, The Best American Short Stories,and elsewhere. Her story "La Moretta" was a 2012 National Magazine Award finalist.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 16 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 16 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 21, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Astonish Me is the story of Joan, an American dancer who helps a

    Astonish Me is the story of Joan, an American dancer who helps a Soviet ballet star defect. Joan is a very good dancer, but she will never be a soloist. She eventually leaves the world of ballet, marries, has a child and a new life. Years later, Joan finds herself faced with the world she left behind when she recognizes a rare, exceptional talent in her son.

    This was my first encounter with Maggie Shipstead's writing, and I was captivated from the very first page. Her writing is simply stunning. I savored every word, and I didn't want to put the book down. These characters are flawed, their lives complicated, and the connections between them confusing and messy. Yet Shipstead created characters I loved and became fully invested in.

    There was a "twist" near the end - more of a cliché, really - that I saw coming for most of the book. I was so disappointed when it finally turned up... I'd held out hope that I'd be wrong. But my disappointment was short lived: I wasn't at the end of the book yet! Shipstead took that cliché and put her own spin on it. The tension and my conflicting emotions had my stomach in knots and took my breath away. From that moment until the last page, I simultaneously wanted to throw the book across the room and hug it.

    What a phenomenal reading experience. I can't wait to read more by Maggie Shipstead.

    I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2014

    I devoured it in two sittings. Ms. Shipstead writes expertly, be

    I devoured it in two sittings. Ms. Shipstead writes expertly, beautifully about the world of ballet, but it's her uncompromising description of female friendship and rivalry that make this book so brilliant. One of the best novels of the year. Loved it. 
    -Moira M., Brooklyn

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 20, 2014

    I won¿t waste your time with a synopsis of the book.  I¿m quite

    I won’t waste your time with a synopsis of the book.  I’m quite positive you can get that by either reading the description and other reviews.  But let me tell you how I came to read this book.  Like you, I read what the novel is about, and decided to give it a look.  What made it even more intriguing is that my daughter studies ballet (soon to be on pointe), and although I’m not a “dance mom” (I don’t think), I am familiar with those types of parents.  Throughout the book, I found myself not really caring for any of the characters.  They were cold and unfeeling with the exception of Jacob, Joan’s husband, whom I pitied.  I also wanted to hug my daughter multiple times, and thanking her for not wanting to dance for a living (she’d rather write).  There was also the occasional time where I wanted to pull a few of her friends aside (who DO want to dance for a living), and convince them not to pursue dance.   I liked the book enough – but if this is even close to the reality of what a dancer can look forward to in life, I’m saddened.  These characters lived for dance.  And I don’t think any of them were happy.  

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 20, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    In Maggie Shipstead's first novel, Seating Arrangements, she man

    In Maggie Shipstead's first novel, Seating Arrangements, she managed to brilliantly capture the voice of a middle-aged man contemplating an affair during the weekend of his daughter's wedding. I was so impressed with Shipstead's beautifully crafted sentences, it was like she spent hours making each one perfect.
    In Astonish Me, Shipstead once again drops us into a world we don't know. We feel what it's like to be a part of a ballet company, the competition, the discipline and way one must give oneself completely over to become a dancer worthy of being part of a ballet company. Like athletes, at some point everyone must come to the realization that they are no longer good enough to go to the next level.
    The novel moves back and forth in time, and we see Joan as a young dancer and then as a wife, mother and teacher. Joan's husband has loved her forever, but sometimes he feels she doesn't love him or their life as much. He says to Joan:"Most of the time now you're here with me- really here, invested; it's not like it was at first- and I think, she's letting me know her, really know her the way people do when they're married. And at other times you're so distant it's like someone's swapped you out for a forgery. You seem like you're going through the motions."One of the most interesting characters in the novel is Elaine, Joan's friend from the dance company. She is a better dancer than Joan, and has a long-time relationship with the dancer who founded their company. Shipstead could have another entire novel from Elaine's point-of-view.
    Astonish Me is another brava performance from Shipstead. Joan is a fascinating protagonist, so complicated and although she is so closed up, Shipstead lets us see inside to who she really is. Fans of ballet will definitely like this insider's look.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2014

    I loved this book.

    Although not interested in the ballet, I found this book captivating. The story was beautifully told and realistic in how peoples decisions follow them through life.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2015

    Loved this book!  Beautifully written with lots of surprises tow

    Loved this book!  Beautifully written with lots of surprises toward the end of the book.

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  • Posted March 29, 2015

    **I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for a

    **I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**

    **This book may be unsuitable for people under 17 years of age due to its use of sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and/or violence.**

    Oh gosh. This is such a hard review to write because I can't stop thinking about how it ended. And I can't talk to you about that too specifically, since that would be one hell of a spoiler. I think the only thing is to explain how the ending made me feel.

    In Astonish Me, Joan (the main character) tries to describe the word "exquisite" to a dancer learning English as a third language. She talks about the perfect beauty of a dancing ballerina, how it's so perfect it's painful. That's the ending of Astonish Me. Its abrupt, but perfectly so, because saying more would ruin the way it hangs with emotion and the poignancy of all it means (and has meant). It's exquisite.

    You'd think with how I just described the ending that Astonish Me would be a five star read. But as much as it sucked me in during the last 25%, I struggled to get to that point. The problem with Astonish Me is that you have to be patient. It jumps you around a lot between time periods (ranging from 1970s - 2002ish) and view points. Just when you get committed to one part of the story, you're removed from it and placed in another. Its not until the last 25% that all the threads start to really come together into a clear picture. Once it does, good luck putting it down.

    It entertains the whole time though, as long as you're willing to go along for the ride. I grabbed Astonish Me because I love dance and have always been enthralled by the way movement can make a person feel so much. I never dreamed of being a dancer or anything - that was never in this clumsy giant's cards. But the life of a ballet dancer is so mesmerizing, because ballet is so often a cruel lover for dancers. And Astonish Me captured that love, pain, and heartbreak of a life in ballet beautifully.

    Maggie Shipstead clearly knows ballet well, because the dances came to life in her words (though I do think knowing ballet terms really helped me appreciate the movement. I don't know what it would be like if you don't know them) and the narrator, Rebecca Lowman, did the words justice, providing the perfect rhythm. The variety of characters provided a challenging set of accents, but I thought Rebecca Lowman pulled them off really well. She did take some getting used to, because she speaks softly and slowly, but after I got used to her and the book, I felt she was a perfect fit.

    Astonish Me is about so much more than dance, though. It takes place haphazardly during the late 60s to about 2002. There are two generations of dancers whose lives are tangled together through more than dance, but through life, love, and heartbreak. The characters feel so damn real - I actually want to look up the situations from this book and see how much really happened. It's not described as a biographical fiction, but I believed these characters, with their flaws and insecurities and passions, so intensely it's hard to imagine they aren't out there somewhere.

    The author did a really fantastic job weaving in generational moments that appear in your history books and showing the way they impacted these dancers world. The role of the cold war was shocking and exciting, as much as the shock of AIDS was devastating and poignant (sorry to keep using that word, but I can't find another one that works as well for me).

    By the end, I felt like Astonish Me had actually been a dance made up of beautiful, disconnected acts, tied together in a shocking, poignant, and a bit devastating way. Not a feel good book, but one that is sure to make any dance lover FEEL the full range of emotions.

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  • Posted July 28, 2014

    This book did not astonish me.  Neither did it captivate me or e

    This book did not astonish me.  Neither did it captivate me or even hold my interest for very long.  As another reviewer opined, the characters seem cold and unlikeable, and the ballet world described is certainly not a pleasant place to be.  I finished the book, but towards the end, I started skimming faster and faster, because I simply didn't care what happened.  What a sad bunch of people.

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  • Posted July 1, 2014

    This was beautifully written and very well done.

    This was beautifully written and very well done.

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    Posted May 28, 2014

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    Posted April 17, 2014

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    Posted July 3, 2014

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    Posted July 16, 2014

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    Posted May 27, 2014

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    Posted April 28, 2014

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