The Art of Falling is as much the story of dancer Penny Sparrow’s psychical rehabilitation as it is her physical one. Her raison d’être is to express and personify her emotions with her body—to dance out the movements of her mind; a true artist, she is a master of the motion-emotion relationship. And Kathryn Craft’s novel fully realizes Penny’s volatile inner psyche, explores the dancer’s experiences after a debilitating accident, and takes the reader on the journey of her mind’s and body’s recovery. Published earlier this year, The Art of Falling is former modern dancer, choreographer, and dance critic Craft’s debut novel.
In The Art of Falling, Penny Sparrow awakens to discover she is in the hospital and can’t remember what unfortunate event brought her there. Obstacles, of the seemingly insurmountable variety, weigh her down. For starters, she can’t move. The 28-year-old modern dancer is at odds with her quiescent body, as well as the world, for she needs to be in motion to truly feel alive. To take away movement is to kill her slowly, death by immobility, and how her muscles ache for just one plié.
Yet her physical limitations are merely the beginning—it’s not just Penny’s muscles that have memory.
She must put together the puzzle of her past, the leading detective in her own life, in order to gain cognizance. The novel is a Bildungsroman, or a coming of age story, since readers see Penny reexamine her adolescence and young adulthood; revisiting memories that she must pull apart and inspect to fully heal. While at first she resists, she eventually faces her past, thanks to the nudging of those that love her, as well as a pesky dance critic anxious to hear her story. The threads of Penny’s life enable her, in the end, to spring forward and make her whole. Although she is stubborn and headstrong to a fault, Penny re-imagines her relationship with her mother and father (exploring their marriage, too), her ex-lover Dmitri, her former dance instructor, and (most painfully) her body. Throughout the book Penelope strives to overcome the rejections of the dance world and her life in order to find her inner beauty and talents.
I would highly recommend The Art of Falling to other people. I’d warn you, squeamish readers, that the novel explores Penny’s fall as a mild version of body horror that may cause you to shudder, if nothing else, in sympathy for her. That’s not the worst part. As her world crashes down, this novel might also break your heart. But Craft sews you back together so that it beats louder than ever before.