Dancing on Broken Glass is book club majesty, a novel readers can chew on and then talk up one side and down another, like a good, thought-provoking episode of The Big C (for those who don’t know Showtime’s stellar series, The Big C, it’s about a woman with cancer—brilliantly portrayed by Laura Linney—who finally, and hysterically, begins living with gusto after getting her terminal diagnosis).
Dancing on Broken Glass (so put your combat boots on) by the very capable author, Ka Hancock (a psychiatric nurse in her non-writing life), is like that in a way—and yet it’s not. First off, it’s not hysterically funny, and there’s no suspense or mystery, and it’s overlong. About a marriage between a bi-polar man (Mickey) and a woman (Lucy) with a long history of breast cancer in her family, it’s not even a little bit funny. Still, I started the book falling in love, even knowing the premise couldn’t possibly end well (yet hoping otherwise), because I was enamored with Lucy’s voice. Hancock’s set-ups and characterizations are flawless. I loved Lucy’s grit, gusto, and her commitment. I wanted to hang with her. I wanted a good life for her.
But here’s where the many lovers of this soap opera will begin wanting to throw their e-readers at me:
After Mickey’s first psychotic break (cringingly rendered by Hancock), before his marriage to Lucy, I wanted to hustle Lucy aside and say, “Sweetie, don’t do it! Run! If you marry Mickey, your entire life, the breadth and the scope of it, will be defined by this illness. Broken glass is nothing! Your life will be about picking your way through land mines!”
Of course, Lucy didn’t listen to me. The young never do.
I commend Hancock for wanting to show mental illness as something that can be dealt with instead of run away from—I’d like to think we can face down all the monsters living under our beds. And I agree with the premise that mental illness shouldn’t be stepped around.
Unless psychotic states are involved—and then step lively and out the front door.
Despite the argument that real committed love is often messy, were I Lucy, I’d have had to love Mickey from afar, for my sanity. Saturday night dates maybe, but only IF Mickey’s meds were humming along. Because psychotic breaks can make “regular messy” look like Christmas in Paris.
It’s for this reason I wish Hancock had depicted Mickey’s bi-polar disorder as less severe, so we’d have had the opportunity to learn how this currently almost-ubiquitous diagnosis is successfully managed.
But see why Dancing on Broken Glass is ideal book club fodder? I’m still yakking it up.
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