Passion, ambition and escape in the colorful artistic underworld off-Broadway, Cammie, a dancer in her mid-thirties, has just landed her first part in a show since coming to New York City. Yet the tug of familial obligation and the guilt of what she sacrificed to be there weigh down her dancing feet. Her lover, Tom, an older piano player, came to the city as a young man in the 1980s with a story eerily in tune with Cammie’s own. Through their triumphs and failures, both learn the fleeting nature of glory, the sweetness of new love, and how a dream come true isn’t cherished until it passes. The bright lights of the stage intoxicate, while degradation and despair lurk close behind the curtain. Their sagas are marred by two pandemics, AIDS in the 1980s and COVID-19 today, which ravaged the performing arts community, leaving a permanent scar on those who lived through them. The poignant intersection of their stories reveals a love affair unbound by time, reaching across decades through the notes of a piano’s remembered song.
***Thanks to NetGalley and Lucid House Publishing for an eARC of this book. The following review is my honest reflection on the text provided.
enjoyable/easy to read:
I wish this whole book was written from Tom’s perspective. His story was compelling; his drive to be a successful classical pianist while fighting against racial stereotypes and the pressure created by his family had true potential. Instead, we only get glimpses of Tom’s past while being held hostage by Cammie’s perspective for most of the book.
Cammie is a dancer in her mid-thirties. She is incredibly entitled with a serious victim mentality. Everything that happens to her is someone else’s fault and she measures everyone’s importance by what they can do for her. While we get to experience twinges of character development, they’re few and far between.
Like when she notices her poor mother working construction to be the sole provider for the family may actually be more tired than she lets on. Or the incredible realisation that moving her wedding up so that their family couldn’t afford to send her sister to an exclusive art program because she was jealous that she chose not to pursue dance may have been unfair, especially considering the success of her marriage.
At times it almost seems that she forgets that other people are capable of feelings and emotions.
I did find the portrayal of Cammie’s ‘depression’ to be the worst, if not most dangerous, part of the story. She self-diagnoses her depression and the narrative flows along easily, discussing the path her depression follows every time it happens. She hasn’t been to see anyone, she’s not being treated or in therapy or seeking help. And as soon as things start going her way again her depression is cured. It’s the most entitled, superficial writing I’ve ever read about mental illness.
Phillips tries to contrast the AIDs epidemic in the 80s with the COVID-19 outbreak. This has some potential, especially with how both have affected the arts community, but the characters are too far removed from either disease to leave a strong impression. Instead, Tom having a gay friend and taking an AIDs test with him and Cammie observing an empty subway system in New York City makes them both seem more like spectators rather than true participants.
I’m giving my three stars to Tom and trying to pretend Cammie was an entitled bystander and not the main character.