Dance, by Judy Cuevas

>> Monday, August 01, 2005

After reading Judy Cuevas's Bliss a couple of months ago, it was all I could do not to start rereading Dance immediately.

Dance is the extraordinary new novel by Judy Cuevas, the acclaimed author of Bliss and Black Silk. It is the emotionally powerful story of two people in turn-of-the-century Paris. A man and a woman drawn together by fate... but haunted by the brief moment of passion they shared in the past. Theirs was a dance of denial and attraction Dreams and desire. Self-reliance and need. And each step drew them closer to the greatest sacrifice one heart can make for another...
I loved Dance when I first read it, but after reading Bliss, I had the impression I'd liked the latter a bit better. After rereading, however, I don't think I could really choose between the two. An A.

The story starts three years after Bliss ends, and a lot has changed since then. After running out on Nardi during the wedding ceremony, Marie was sent abroad until the scandal died down, but not long after that, she went on on her own and hasn't been back to Paris ever since. Now she's returned, having shed both lots of weight and all the expectations her family had placed on her. She's now a "modern" woman, and, after her sojourn in the United States, a film director. Problem is, she's run through the small inheritance she'd been using (film-making takes money!), so she's back to ask her father for assistance.

She's met at the station by Sébastien, whose life has undergone some serious changes, too. Not only has his wife of many years died; after the débacle at Aubrignon, when all his plans vanished in smoke, he has grown closer and closer to Marie's father, who was injured in the explosion that destroyed all the work Sébastien had put into the Château. In fact, Sébastien has become du Gard's de facto son, running his empire for him and everything.

But Sébastien still remembers that "hysterical dot" on his well-ordered existence, that afternoon after the botched wedding when he went after the runaway bride and ended up having the most amazing sex of his life with her. So amazingly shocking that he's actually blocked most of the details. But now that Marie is back, all that he'd tried to forget is coming back, and he's finding he's behaving very uncharacteristically.

Most of the book takes places at Aubrignon, where Sébastien goes after Marie when she vanishes again after her father rejects her. His irrupting into the shooting of a scene in Marie's movie on the very moment of his arrival results in a broken leg, which means he's stuck at Aubrignon with a painter, his two "floozie" models and Marie, the very woman who drives him mad.

And that's the best thing about the book, the way the previously pompous, respectable Sébastien has his life turned inside out by this woman who refuses to play by his rules. It's a thing of beauty, to see how his behaviour degenerates, how he grows increasingly crazy about her. And Marie isn't as indifferent to Sébastien as she would like to believe.

In addition to this wonderful, wonderful romance, Dance features the same beautiful writing Bliss did, writing which had me reading some particularly well turned-out phrases over and over, writing which created settings so vivid I felt as if I was right there.

My only problem with Dance was a small one, and it came right at the end of the book. All throughout the story, I'd thought Marie's actions to protect her decision not succumb and lose herself again felt justified, but I had the feeling she went a bit too far there at the end. Sébastien was making a very real effort and mostly succeeding, so I didn't really understand the urgency behind her actions. Other than that small detail, Dance is perfect!


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