First Love Paperback – 3 Jun 2006
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From the Publisher
A passionate, steamy and heartrending novel of blighted and doomed love. Heartbreaking women's fiction at its best.
From the Back Cover
Sharp just may have cornered the market on fiction depicting the elegant, glittering world of tutus and pointe shoes, pliés and grand jetés.' Pages
Adam and Sandra are dancers, friends since they were fifteen, now lovers. She is in the corps of the New York City Ballet and has just caught the eye of legendary director George Balanchine. He is an explosively gifted new star who has defected to a rival company. They are in love, both of them passionate and ambitious, but ill-prepared to handle the demands, seductions, and expectations that are visited on them as they come within reach of their dreams.
In Sandra, for years an unnoticed member of the corps, Balanchine identifies his last muse and plans to write a Sleeping Beauty for her to star in, his final and greatest ballet. But Balanchine's favour comes at a price, and forces Sandra to decide between two loves. Should she continue her troubled involvement with her first love and follow his vision of their future? Or should she accept all that the Balanchine offers - the fulfilment of a dream nurtured from childhood, during those endless hours at the barre?
'Ravishing... Sharp fully inhabits the troubled psyches and hard-driven bodies of her commanding yet maddening characters, describing with transporting detail everything from a costume's cut and sparkle to a tragic kiss. Sharp's bewitchingly sensual and trenchant tale embodies the sublime and the monstrous aspects of dance and explores our depthless capacity for exultation and suffering.' Booklist
A compulsively readable and undeniably juicy portrayal of offstage life during the ballet boom. The plot zips along on Sharps lyrical writing style, and emotionality rises like steam off the page. San Francisco ChronicleSee all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
However, the characters, their extreme emotional insecurities, and often excruitiatingly miserable interactions, really dampened the experience. Also it seems odd that in a book that is supposed to be for women, I felt a complete lack of sympathy for the female protagonist, and the only other woman in the foreground, her boyfriend's mother. Sharp was in fact very sharp on her female characters, and seemed to invite the reader to be more in sympathy with the male band of characters.
I was relieved to finish the book and say goodbye to the lot of them!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Sharp addresses with insight and compassion the artist's eternal debate - how to live in the real world with one's dreams and aspirations, and each character embodies this struggle as the story unfolds. Sandra must live with the realities of an ill father, a brilliant historian who has battled with mental illness since before Sandra's mother died when she was a child. Adam must deal with the pressure he receives from his parents, dancers themselves, who provide a stunted kind of support: they love him, but their own dysfunctional relationship and their need to turn away from romantic passion and seek only the passion they can find in art has made them poor role models for their son. He must learn how to negotiate relationships on his own. For solace, Adam has always turned to his godfather, Randall, the only one in the family who sees him as a person more than as a body. Yet Randall is failing, deteriorating from the ravages of Kaposi's sarcoma.
This book investigates in unflinching but breathtaking prose the layers of passion to be navigated by dancers. There is the romantic and sexual passion that Adam and Sandra share in their desperate attempts to meld their souls while simultaneously trying to extricate themselves from one another. There is the passion of the dance, the physical passion, in all of its rough and tactile glory. In one powerful dance scene, Adam has the opportunity to dance with his father, Frankie, in a ballet that his grandfather's lover has created for the three of them - Adam, Frankie, and Sandra. The scene details the movement of the men's bodies, the etchings that makeup creates in the lines of their faces, the film of sweat their hands slip over when they grasp one another's limbs for their intricate moves. Adam is at the top of his game, feeling at first intimidated by then energized by his father's presence; he executes his leaps and vaults with passion and precision. And when Sandra comes out of the wings, he uses that energy to create a dynamo on the stage. But the experience, Adam realizes, exhilarating as it is, taps into too much emotion since it involves the people he loves. For the reader, the scene highlights the question of how the artist, in his or her realm, can exert control - over self, over art, over love.
The final level of passion is exemplified by Balanchine himself, as he struggles to transform the vision in his head to the three dimensional world of the studio, and ultimately, the stage. For his passion, control is also an issue. He can control the vision of his art, but he can't control his deteriorating body, nor can he control the life of the woman he wants to birth as his final muse.
Adrienne Sharp's First Love offers a multitude of reads from passionate love story to real-life depiction of the dance world, to treatise on the evolution of an artist's vision. All are deeply satisfying.
I'm not going to give away the whole plot, but the two main characters face difficult personal decisions while trying to maintain a career in the seemingly brutalizing world of ballet. Adam engages in several short sexual relationships, while Sandra remains to herself, as if she is waiting for her "first love," Adam. They eventually end up consummating their relationship, but from then on, as their relationship grows, they must decide what their true desires are--specifically Sandra, who Balanchine chooses as his "last muse" for his adaptation of Sleeping Beauty.
Eventually, however, all forces collide by the end of the novel. Love, lust, career, aspirations, and heartbreak make up the climax of the novel. Sharp combines the elements of dance with the wrenching emotions of the art, much like what was done in White Swan, Black Swan. The ending makes complete sense--and leads the reader to make their own conclusions about the characters.
Despite what other reviews say, I do recommend this novel. It offers an emotional look at the lives of dancers, and the impact the art of ballet can have on their lives. The characters are complex, the plot is well executed, and the book is written in delicate prose--overall, this novel is "compulsively readable" and an achievement for Adrienne Sharp.