Pretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain
Pub. Date: October 6, 2015
Source: ARC + finished copy via publisher (Thank you, St. Martin’s Press!)
Summary: Molly Arnette is very good at keeping secrets. She lives in San Diego with a husband she adores, and they are trying to adopt a baby because they can’t have a child on their own. But the process of adoption brings to light many questions about Molly’s past and her family—the family she left behind in North Carolina twenty years before. The mother she says is dead but who is very much alive. The father she adored and whose death sent her running from the small community of Morrison’s Ridge. Her own birth mother whose mysterious presence in her family raised so many issues that came to a head. The summer of twenty years ago changed everything for Molly and as the past weaves together with the present story, Molly discovers that she learned to lie in the very family that taught her about pretending. If she learns the truth about her beloved father’s death, can she find peace in the present to claim the life she really wants?
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Heart-stabby
With an embarrassing one book (last year’s The Silent Sister) under my belt, I knew I needed to get my act together, especially since I’ve been waxing poetic about this author. There was no doubt in my mind that Pretending to Dance would be great, but I didn’t realize just how hard it would hit me. Hey, St. Martin’s, do your readers a favor and package this book with a box of tissues. Or five.
Unable to have a child of their own, Molly and her husband made the decision to adopt and, so far, things are going perfectly. They got along beautifully with the case worker, the home tour couldn’t have gone better…but when asked to provide details about her family, Molly lies, just as she’s always done. Her own husband doesn’t know the truth about her parents. Yes her father died, but her mother is still alive and well and is the person responsible for his death.
With these secrets hanging heavy in her chest – and the addition of a potential open relationship with their child’s birth mother (too open, if you were to ask Molly) – is there any way for her to finally move on from her past and embrace the future?
After finishing this one I did something I’ve never done before: I e-mailed the publicist to share my thoughts…and by share my thoughts, I mean it was ALL CAPS and !!!!s. I’m typically professional to the max when talking to publicists, but a) she’s FAB and b) I honestly couldn’t contain my emotions. I wasn’t joking about being a mess while finishing this book. You see, I’m a total sucker for a father/daughter story and Pretending to Dance is one of the best I’ve ever read. Using my all-time favorite type of storytelling (dual era!), Pretending to Dance glimpses into Molly’s past as a child living in Morrison’s Ridge. She loves her parents, but it’s her father she truly adores. As a psychiatrist he’s launched some pretty radical ideas, including his Pretend Therapy. While a degenerative illness breaks down his body (his cane led to a wheelchair and a permanent caretaker) his mind is still sharp as ever and Molly delights in transcribing his notes.
It’s hard to go too in-depth with my thoughts without spoiling something, but I will say that Molly’s mother cares for her without ever really showing much affection and the reasoning behind her actions took this book to another level. Diane Chamberlain has a way of stacking layer upon layer in her writing and is able to flawlessly weave it all together. There are multiple stories at play in Pretending to Dance but I never felt overwhelmed and, unlike other books, each story was meant to be included. I’ve read books where plots have been abandoned halfway or ignored completely. You won’t find that here!
That e-mail I sent? I said that I couldn’t promise any kind of coherent thought or even full sentences and I’m still not convinced I did this book the justice it deserves. What does it say when you mull over a novel for a month before even attempting to talk about it? There was a scene (if you’ve read this, it’s the one that first includes the phrase ‘pretending to dance’) and, my goodness, it was an absolute gut-punch. I knew what was going to happen from the beginning, but seeing it all play out was a completely different matter and from that moment, I was gone. Diane Chamberlain has made it her mission in life to utterly destroy my heart. Mission accomplished, madam.