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My Father, Dancing

My Father, Dancing

by Bliss Broyard

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Bliss Broyard's fathers are charismatic, seductive, brilliant men who loom large in the world, and larger at home. Their daughters, hungry for attention and connection, veer wildly between naiveté and cool indifference. In this powerful collection, Broyard's unsentimental prose captures the passages of daughters as they grow into young women: their


Bliss Broyard's fathers are charismatic, seductive, brilliant men who loom large in the world, and larger at home. Their daughters, hungry for attention and connection, veer wildly between naiveté and cool indifference. In this powerful collection, Broyard's unsentimental prose captures the passages of daughters as they grow into young women: their struggles with identity, desire, and familial roles. From the early lessons girls absorb through their fathers-their first audience-to the equivocal attachments of marriage to the emotions of love and mourning, the characters in My Father, Dancing chronicle the never-ending dance between fathers and their daughters, and the many awakenings of girls and women.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A wonderful first collection. In these eight arresting stories, Ms. Broyard proves herself a powerful writer who never looks away.-The New York Times
"Broyard's characters have senses of humor, flashes of insight and brief streaks of cruelty. . . . Achingly beautiful."-San Francisco Chronicle
"Among the best new collections. . . . Spare and lovely."-Time
Allegra Goodman
Two stories in the collection have a staged quality....However, Broyard's best stories read true. The title story is rich with memory and feeling.
The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The daughter of the late author and critic Anatole Broyard has written a collection that is partly about fathers and daughters, partly about the many difficult choices facing young women trying to find their place in life--and it has to be said that the former stories are more successful than the latter. The title story, particularly, is surely a barely fictionalized reminiscence of a man who wrote clear-sightedly of his own approaching death, and strikes a number of eloquently touching notes. "The Trouble with Mr. Leopold" tells of the conflicting demands made on an impressionable schoolgirl by a teacher and a father who are both manipulative in their different ways. "At the Bottom of the Lake" is about a girl desperately trying to preserve a cherished but irretrievable relationship in the face of an impossible stepmother. Several of the other stories, however, especially "Ugliest Faces," "Loose Talk" and "Snowed In," are sensitively observed but not very revealing accounts of women trying on roles for men friends and lovers, and the touch here is less sure; Broyard has some difficulty in ending her tales on an appropriately conclusive note, and too often they seem to stop in midair. Still, she has an assured style that usually carries her over the rougher spots, and is pleasantly free of the tough, show-off quality common to many younger short story writers. (Aug.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
The young women in this collection of eight short stories are from the New England prep school scene. Some are still teenagers, some in college, and some are college graduates. They've had easy, privileged lives: they live in houses filled with books, Persian rugs and grand pianos. These are the girls who might have been in Carol Gilligan's famous study of adolescent females; some have found a voice, some haven't. The most painful story involves Bridget, an undergraduate who is having an intense affair with her former instructor, a graduate student. Bridget hits and injures a male student with her car and is blackmailed into having sex with him in his dorm room. Several of the stories, including the title story, are about fathers. (The author's father was a well-known literary critic.) The young women describe interactions with their fathers with bemusement and partial understanding. Their relationships with men and boys their own age reflect ambivalence and uncertainty. English teachers might have an interesting discussion about "Snowed In," in which a group of teenagers of both sexes are holed up in a country house with no parents in evidence. Young women will find this collection intriguing. The book made the New York Times Notable Book of the Year list. KLIATT Codes: SA*—Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1999, Harcourt, 189p, 21cm, 00-035066, $13.00. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Penelope Power; Libn., Garrison Forest Sch., Garrison, MD January 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 1)
Library Journal
In this debut, the daughter of renowned New York Times reviewer Anatole Broyard turns out eight stories, several of which appeared in Best American Short Stories 1998 and The Pushcart Anthology.
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
...[A] wonderful first collection....[Her dialogue] tends to be a little stiff and monochromatic....But it is between the lines that Ms. Broyard's writing is most effective....[She] proves herself a powerful writer...
The New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
The daughter of the late critic and longtime New York Times reviewer Anatole Broyard debuts with eight stories that break little new ground but are readable, well-crafted, entirely unaffected—and consequently of considerable appeal. In the title story, a young woman named Kate, as her father is dying from cancer, remembers his love of dancing—something he did wonderfully—all the way back to her own very early childhood, when she stood on his feet as he moved her around the living-room rug. In "Mr. Sweetly Indecent," an equally touching father story though more loosely told, a young woman sees her father kissing another woman—and is seen by him as she looks. Lucy Baldwin, engaged to be married, invites her father for a visit to the lake cabin that she keeps up partly because he once loved it dearly—as he still does, though his second wife ("At the Bottom of the Lake") is a citified snob and shrew who dislikes it and ruins the visit for everyone—though resulting in one of the best stories in the volume. A girl named Pilar lives with Max but is infatuated with a famous musician who calls her from the road for love-whispering ("Loose Talk"); a schoolgirl named Celia, in the funniest piece, has a father who's a professional writer—though when he helps her with a paper, it gets only a C-plus ("The Trouble with Mr. Leopold"); and "Ugliest Faces," if at moments far-fetched, shows post-college love, sex, and guilt being tested. Two closing tales are set in Connecticut, where an Eloise-like girl named Lily has a famous father ("A Day in the Country") and then, years later, has an epiphany about her own sexuality that's quite remarkable indeed ("Snowed In").Stories from an author showing a steady hand and eye, a large heart, and an admirable aversion to trend, fad, or pose of any sort. All eyes should be open, looking for more.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Harvest Book Series
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt

From "My Father, Dancing"

My father and I used to dance together in the kitchen before dinner. I grew up with the kitchen radio always on, tuned to a local R&B station. The habit got started with the dogs; my mother said the music kept them company when we were all away for the day. When I was small enough still to like being picked up, I shimmied in my father's arms while he performed an improvised two-step. Later I squirmed out of his grasp and made up my own steps, ducking out of the way of pots as my mother moved from refrigerator to sink to stove.

When I was old enough to be sneaked into bars -- "She's with me," my father would tell the bouncer with a sly grin -- we continued dancing to the sounds of stompy live bands. At these bars, dancing was serious business. We sat at a table, each with a bottle of beer in one hand, the fingers of the other tapping out a rhythm, the bony crack of our thumbs on the edge of the table giving an accent sharp as a cymbal crash. And then we were up, pushing our chairs back, no words exchanged, but both responding to some tightening of rhythm or deepening in the bass line. That moment reminded me of the way our dogs on the beach would suddenly begin to run down the sand at a breakneck clip, running toward something that seemed to be attached by an invisible string to a part of them not yet bred out.

I relied on this silent method we had of communicating, so I didn't know how to talk to my father when he was lying in a hospital bed, slowly dying of cancer. I hung over him like an insect caught in a spider's web, thrashing uselessly. I watched for the tiniest movement, a gesture, a raising of his eyebrows, anything that would tellme about what I meant to him.

On those dance floors over the years, we told each other more about ourselves than in any conversation. I mimicked my father's movements, and when I had gotten it right, I felt suddenly that I had been dropped into his body for a moment and knew his pleasure at pushing out on the floor a rhythm that brought the music inside of him. I used these occasions to test him too. As my body grew and pushed out in new places, I wriggled these parts and tried on different movements, the way I would try on new clothes. He was my first male audience, and I used him as a mirror to understand what I looked like to the world. His eyes told me what worked and what was too much, until I settled into a rhythm that suited me. It seemed natural that I should learn these lessons from him. Once my father told me that he wanted to be the first man to break my heart, because then he could ensure that at least it would be done gently. I thought about this during one of the many hours I spent sitting next to his hospital bed holding his hand. As I waited for some sign that he was aware of me, I thought it had boiled down to this: all I wanted from him was a simple squeeze of his fingers. As I waited and did not receive any sign, I realized that he was breaking my heart and it wasn't done gently at all.

My mother would watch our dancing at these bars from the table. Usually a woman friend would have joined her, and they would talk, their mouths lifted to each other's ears, hands cupped to their faces like they were telling secrets. My mother liked to dance too, and at times, when I was younger, I wondered if she was jealous. But now I could see that she must have liked to watch us, her husband and the daughter they had made, proving out there on the dance floor the success of their lives together.

Sometimes in the hospital my father and I talked. Or, rather, he talked. He told stories about when he was young, women he dated before he met my mother, friends he had who were, I knew, now dead. As he spoke, he stared slightly below and to the left of the television set. Once I moved behind him so I could match my line of sight with his. Maybe, I thought, the sunlight coming in from the large windows was catching this patch of white wall and giving it a suggestive sheen. But it just looked blank to me. It seemed he was seeing his life projected onto this wall and was giving it voice. I listened for my name and, when I didn't hear it, told myself that he just hadn't gotten to me yet. Once in a while he turned toward me and asked if it was time to go yet. I misunderstood the first time and tried to reassure him with what would become my mother's and my refrain, "I'm right here. I love you."

"Oh, stop with your bromides!" he answered. "I'm a busy man. Get the car and let's go. Let's go! Let's go!"

I quickly learned to lie and say that we were leaving any minute. He would forget after a while or go back to telling stories about his life.

One day, while I was riding the bus to the hospital, a blind man sat in the seat across from me. I noticed him at first because of his sunglasses, which were French and very expensive, and which I had coveted in a shop earlier in the summer. Then I noticed his stick and wondered if someone had helped him pick out the glasses. As we rode, he rubbed his foot up against the pole separating his seat from the seats next to him and also stroked it furtively with the back of his hand, from knee to shoulder height. The other riders stared out the window or read or focused blankly on the space in front of them. It struck me that the blind man was trying to make sense of the world around him. As I watched him, I thought about sitting with my father in the hospital, about how I continued to bump up against the fact of him lying there, through my conversations with the nurses about his temperature, his platelet count, and how the night had gone; through the hospital food that we ordered for him, though he couldn't eat it, and which I ate. When his friends came to visit, I waited for them to turn back from the window as they wiped the tears from their eyes. I struggled to see the shape of what would happen as it loomed, invisible, in front of me.

Meet the Author

Bliss Broyard's stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories 1998, The Pushcart Anthology, and Grand Street. She lives in New York.

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