At the heart of Kathryn Craft’s long-awaited debut novel The Art of Falling is the story of the intense and life-changing friendship between three very different characters. Penny is a dancer treading the finest of lines between disciplined diet and anorexia who regains consciousness in hospital after a 14-storey fall. Marty is her worst nightmare–a baker who tries to sweeten her life with glazed dough-nuts. But he is also her saviour: it was his van she landed on, and he’s determined to check up on her. And Angela is the woman in the next bed with cystic fibrosis, a great sense of humour, and a perfect stick-thin body to die for.
As Penny tries to rebuild her life and her broken body and regain her memories of the fateful night of her fall, she moves in with Angela to take care of her. Like Marty’s bread, Penny has been knocked down and risen again. And gradually she allows the influence of the imperfect people in her life to soften her so she can mould herself into a real person, and find the true movement she craves.
My “career” in the dance industry began with maybe two or three ballet lessons after which I quit in disgust when the reality did not live up to my imagination. I think I was five (and very opinionated). In high school I was stunned to discover that teenage girls still did ballet when I made a new friend who danced competitively. I often wonder if our friendship fizzled out because there was a whole aspect to her life that I was completely uninterested in. The first temp position I was offered when I moved to Melbourne was as a receptionist for the Australian Ballet. One of my duties was to select a ballet recording and set it up to play on the big screens in the reception area. After three days I was ready to rip the tape out of the VHS cassettes; luckily the permanent receptionist had recovered by then and I moved on to terrorise a firm of architects instead.
So I inadvertently threw author Kathryn Craft a challenge when I offered to read an advance copy of The Art of Falling. Would a book about dancing be able to hold my interest? Would I even be able to understand it? Dance is a visual medium–how would I even begin to visualise what was going on? But Kathryn Craft is a skilled writer, and her years of choreographing and writing reviews of dance shows have allowed her to build the descriptive muscle to support and carry her prose. To my surprise, I found the passages detailing the dance moves quite understandable and even enjoyable. Another issue I was anticipating was that the dance descriptions might become repetitive, but every one seemed fresh and unique. Kathryn easily swept me along with Penny’s movements and I actually found myself understanding Penny and her need for movement, the way she communicated through movement, and even the way she considered the air around her to be a dance partner (a key metaphor in the book). It was a real shift in perspective for me.
I’ve categorised The Art of Falling as “New Adult” (18-28) or “Women’s Fiction” because the themes of death, possible suicide, eating disorders, and body image issues might make this book unsuitable for Young Adult readers unless they are able to read and discuss it with a parent, teacher, or mentor. The author includes discussion starter questions for book clubs, so parents/teachers of mature teenagers might like to consider it as a book club read. Be prepared for some provocative discussion.