Dance, Gladys, Dance might be a ghost story, but the premise is anything but scary. It’s a well-crafted first novel by former Edmonton writer, Cassie Stocks, which weaves together the lives of several characters, and their desire to follow their dreams. Winner of the 2013 Leacock Medal for Humour, the book’s strength lies in its strong character development – the characters are zany and interesting, and, while Stocks has a witty tone, she deals with very serious, sometimes downright devastating, themes.
It starts with Frieda Zweig, a 27-year-old, who wants to be normal. After half-heartedly pursing an art career and several men who were wrong for her, she wants to start all over again. The first step? Frieda decides to move into a new place with a few roommates, including, Gladys, who ensures Frieda doesn’t succeed in her pursuit of anything normal. Gladys is a ghost and, as she reveals her sad past, Frieda’s perspective changes.
But it’s not just Frieda’s relationship with Gladys that proves inspiring; Stocks manages to weave together the stories of several different characters, having the plot points meld in complex and interesting ways. Frieda’s struggles are mirrored in those of her friends and acquaintances. Mr. H, Frieda’s elderly roommate, fights to save an art studio from being closed. The doily-loving next-door-lady develops a strong bond with a homeless, drug-addicted girl. Frieda’s ex-boyfriend has made his millions from a lewd business of which he isn’t proud. An eccentric screenwriter, who’s had her share of baggage, struggles to change.
The novel is so true-to-life, there are times the reader is left wondering if Frieda is just delusional, and not actually seeing a ghost at all. It’s the beauty of the story – it’s both imaginative and down-to-earth. While the characters are unique, the situations will ring true and close-to-home for most people. Most of us can relate to the desire to follow a passion and the crippling fear that can accompany it. Stocks does a great job of entertaining, while eliciting both laughter and tears, sometimes simultaneously. (NeWest Press, 341 pgs)
To read our Q & A with author Cassie Stocks, click here.