What kinds of positions does Various Positions have in mind? Dance positions, sex positions, moral positions? The novel's tantalizing front cover depicts a ballerina (from behind) taking a bow; on the back cover, her legs dangle in the air, as if she has just been hanged. The pages in between these two darkly comic images suggest that the various positions of ballet, sex and morality are intimately linked, and frequently inseparable.
When Georgia, a talented but shy teenaged dancer, is accepted into the prestigious and cutthroat Royal Ballet Academy, she savors its disciplined commitment to excellence. Appalled by her parents' dysfunctional relationship and her friends' obsession with boys, Georgia tries to distance herself from sexuality by diving into the world of professional ballet, a supposedly pure and passionate realm, driven by aesthetic splendour instead of desire. However, as Georgia and her charismatic instructor, Roderick, become suspiciously close, Georgia begins to blur the lines between artistry and sexuality, and she soon discovers that she is just as corruptible, just as fallible, just as human, as those around her.
It is a shame that Various Positions was released shortly after Black Swan, a far less compelling and nuanced work of art. Although they both address issues of artistic and sexual obsession, Schabas chooses subtlety over psychodrama and realism over sensationalism. She crafts a complex dialectic between gender, sexuality and art, while grounding her ideas in everyday moral dilemmas. She never settles for conventional twists or tidy resolutions, and her suggestive dialogue and suspenseful plot are only enhanced by her sharp eye for imagery and her finely-tuned ear for lyricism. For those who were intrigued by Black Swan's subject yet disappointed by its execution, who longed for characters instead of archetypes and ideas instead of platitudes, Various Positions is the book for you. It is an exhilarating, thought-provoking--and, at times, unsettling--debut by one of Canada's most promising writers.
Chris Gilmore is currently pursuing a Masters in English and Creative Writing at the University of Toronto. He writes fiction, plays and screenplays.
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Dr. Aaron Schneider completed a PhD. in Canadian Literature at Western University where he currently teaches courses in public speaking, political rhetoric and Canadian Literature. He is excited about bringing together his interests in World and Canadian Literature. He is the co-founder and co-editor of The Rusty Toque and Western's online student journal Occasus.