Jennifer Pieroni
Queen’s Ferry Press
146 pages

Despite taking place in an abandoned village, Jennifer Pieroni manages to populate her novella Danceland with ballerinas, epileptic cats, debonair British expatriates, alcoholics, and the lust and anxiety inherent to youth. She achieves this through a dynamic narrative that is never afraid to shift in time or place. Danceland begins as a simple story but spirals into something much greater, oscillating between complexity and bone-chilling isolation.

Well-meaning father Frank secludes his twelve year old daughter Lettie in an abandoned village they call Danceland. The story is told in alternating perspectives. Lettie opens the novel with her daily routine before adventuring out into the world. After a traumatic accident, she ends up in a hospital and is introduced to the civilization for the first time. As Lettie comes to terms with her past and upbringing, Frank’s history unfolds before the reader. The lies begin to add up until the characters collapse under their weight.

While telling a story from alternating perspectives isn’t new or avant-garde, Pieroni has managed to achieve a near-perfect synergy between the form and content of her novella. The reader is never left to grasp for straws, rather, insights are gleamed as the characters are forced to reconcile the stories they’ve been told with the workings of the world. This isn’t a schizophrenic text interested in jump cuts and misdirection. Pieroni’s story is powerful enough to indulge in large, sustained sections of backstory and introspection. Even as the characters stare inward, the outside world pressures them into decisions. They are always acting, performing in a contemporary ballet without a stage. It makes for a quick but lyrical read.
The novella hinges on the love between Frank and Lettie. The father-daughter dynamic trumps morality and convention. Pieroni never delves deeply into philosophical stances because she doesn’t need to. Instead, the reader is allowed to pass judgment and criticism as they see fit. After Lettie is born, Frank ruminates “about his child, not his baby, because he knew they don’t stay babies for long. No, soon enough they are strangers, guests in your world, and it’s up to you to make them feel at home” (75). Frank has his own way of making Lettie feel at home, and it is up to the reader to decide if his plan is just or corrupt.

Danceland is a book that feels sure of itself even when its characters are full of doubt. The action propels the reader through the story though the prose invites you to linger. The sum effect is akin to trying to catch a ballerina’s movements with an outdated camera. You may want the dancer to stop, but the beauty is in the motion.

--Jacob Euteneuer

Jacob Euteneuer lives in Akron, OH with his wife and two sons. He is a candidate in the Northeast Ohio MFA and Editor-in-Chief of Rubbertop Review. His stories and poems have appeared in Atticus Review, Booth, and Hobart, among others.

Also by Jacob Euteneuer:

Review of Mother Box, and Other Tales by Sarah Blackman

Review of Even Though I Don't Miss You by Chelsea Martin

Review of The Aversive Clause by B.C. Edwards