[After an injury, doctors recommend 4-year-old Devon tries gymnastics]
By the end of her first month, Devon had graduated to Tiny Tumblerz, and within a year, Devon was the gym’s VIP, her cubbyhole sprayed silver and festooned with sticker stars.
Watching her on the practice beam, Katie would think This piece of wood is four inches wide, two feet in the air. Four inches. And I’m going to let my daughter plant her dimpled feet on that and do kicks and dips?
“Do the O,” the other girls would say, cheering as Devon arched her back from a handstand until her tiny bottom touched the top of her head. Every now and then Eric would lift her up in the air to see if her backbone was really there.
Prodigy, Katie whispered in her most private thoughts, but never said it aloud.
And so gymnastics became the center, the mighty spine of everything for them.
Devon turning five, six, seven, thousands of hours driving to and from the gym, to and from meets, a half a dozen emergency room visits for the broken toe, knee sprain, elbow popping on the mat, seven stitches after Devon fell from the bars….
commentary: This is first book I have read by this author, so I don’t know if it is typical - I was expecting more of a straight crime novel, which is hardly the author’s fault.
It is set in the world of teenage girls’ gymnastics in the US, and the descriptions were simultaneously far too detailed, strangely gripping, and all-too-convincing: Abbott plainly really knows her stuff. The Knox family has completely given itself over to pushing Devon onwards - she is almost 16, and could be capable of going all the way to the Olympics. There are crushing descriptions of the way these plans eat up money, time, family life. But there is also a whole community of other young girls involved at the gym, girls who are much less talented, and their families too. And yet - everyone will benefit if Devon succeeds, the gym will become more important and exclusive and luxurious, and its owner will make more money.
The rising tide lifts all boats…And so the bitchy, gossipy parents all work to raise money, they get drunk together and behave indiscreetly. And they all know that it’s important not to rock that ever-rising boat.
When someone dies in a hit and run accident, the main consideration seems to be that practice sessions shouldn’t be affected. But the death is going to have complex implications…
Any experienced crime reader won’t have any trouble passing through two false trails to work out what actually happened (most unusually, I felt irritated by the slowness of people to realize what was going on). And the final resolution was ruthless and quite shocking, but rather believable.
There’s a portentous tone, a lack of humour and charm - it would be interesting to see what Liane Moriarty (writing about similar milieux in Australia) would make of this material. And the details of life of the gymnasts made me rather queasy. (and also confused – when I read ‘When I saw that Yurchenko, my heart almost stopped’ I assumed this was a rival gymnast looking too good. But actually it is an important vault move, though it was originally named after a gymnast.)
I did laugh at the ‘sleek purple jacket… called a Glamorak’, though apparently this is a common term. And the best bit of the book described a visit away for the whole club, and how it ended in a row between two people:
An hour later, all the Belstars and booster chaperones looked on from their balconies at the Ramada as Hailey and Ryan, resplendent as a pair of movie stars, bucked and brawled down by the pool…I could have done with more of that kind of thing.
But one amazon reviewer of this book made a very helpful comment:
Abbot does creeping unease very well, imbuing a sense of wrongness in her narrative, even though the denouement is easy to see from way off, despite the careful placing of red herrings. But we don't read Abbott for her crime plots: once again she succeeds in plumbing dark female sensibilities, probing issues of love and dependency, erotic possession and freedom.- and that seemed like a good description.
A very interesting writer. And a memorable writer. I will not be looking at young female gymnasts in the same way…
My friend Bernadette at Reactions to Reading has also reviewed this book. Paula Daly’s highly enjoyable The Trophy Child also looked at over-achieving children and the dynamics of their families.