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'They're Going to Love You' is a novel about forgiveness set in the world of ballet


Meg Howrey's new novel "They're Going To Love You" takes us into a family where ballet is lifeblood, livelihood, dreams and nightmares. Carlisle grows up in the ballet, the daughter of the Sugar Plum Fairy and another one-time dancer. Her parents divorce, and her mother brings her to Ohio, where she grows up. But Carlisle only feels truly alive, alert and dazzled during the short trip she spends with her father, Robert, and his partner, James, in New York. When the story first opens to us, it is decades later, and they are all estranged. And Carlisle gets word that her father is about to die. Meg Howrey, who performed with the Joffrey and City Ballet of Los Angeles, and has appeared on Broadway, as well as writing previous novels, including "The Wanderers," joins us from Los Angeles. Thanks so much for being with us.

MEG HOWREY: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: What does Carlisle find, growing up in the Bank Street apartment in Greenwich Village of Robert and James?

HOWREY: I think she finds an adult world where she can sort of see herself belonging. You know, in Ohio, where she's growing up, she's a too tall, odd girl that likes ballet. And in the world of her father's place and his partner's place in New York, she feels seen. And people talk to her, and she can project herself into this world as a future adult.

SIMON: Yeah. Carlisle develops strong feelings for James, her father's partner. So crush or true love?

HOWREY: I think there's this incredibly interesting relationship between young people and mentors. And it's a really powerful situation and sometimes a dangerous one. But, you know, you're so hungry as a young person or you can be so hungry for that older person that talks to you like an adult. And for Carlisle, James is that. He's that person that speaks to her in a way that no one else does.

SIMON: Yeah. May I ask, what was your path from dancer to writer?

HOWREY: I didn't imagine that I would become a writer. The only thing in my life, other than dance, that I've done is read books. And I didn't realize that all that time I was reading books, I was sort of growing a writer inside me. But I think that's how it happened. And it wasn't until I was in my 30s and I had gotten off a long tour - and I actually had some money, so I wasn't anxious about the next gig. And I had a little time to sit down. And I thought, maybe I'll write that story that's been in my head for a while.

SIMON: It's interesting to me that when we first meet Carlisle, she's 43 and a choreographer. Does she feel like she is a fulfilled choreographer or a somewhat failed dancer?

HOWREY: That's interesting. I think, like most artists, she constantly moves the goalposts of what success looks like for her. So she's working, she's made things, she is successful, but she's always wanting more. And, yes, a part of her identity is wrapped up in what didn't happen for her as a young dancer. And that's a hard thing to move past.

SIMON: Yeah. I - without giving too much away, I want to ask you about one of my favorite characters, and that's Alex. He's a gangly, athletic kid from Florida, a dancer who says something a little insensitive when we first meet him, but I think it's safe to say makes up. I was set to dislike him, but it's wonderful the way you open him up to us.

HOWREY: He's a favorite character of mine, too, so I'm glad you liked him. It was fun to throw him into the mix of these very complicated people and see what happens.

SIMON: I found myself a little haunted by the fact that both Carlisle and her father have a hard time knowing who should forgive who.


SIMON: And so there's this stalemate that last 19 years. You know, we don't really get 19 minutes of life back, much less 19 years.

HOWREY: Yes. From the beginning of working on this book, I wanted to look at what I think is the very complicated nature of forgiveness and the weird power of not forgiving someone, what that wields over another person and the kind of control it gives you. And so I always envision this book about a conversation about the role of forgiveness in our lives and what, really, we're hanging on to when we choose not to forgive someone.

SIMON: What are we hanging on to when we choose not to forgive someone?

HOWREY: I think it's an interesting question to ask yourself. What do I lose if I forgive this person? Why? What is gone from me if I just offer total forgiveness? I think a lot of times, it's a kind of power that we want to hold on to, a way to control things that are uncontrollable, like how we feel and love and look at each other in this world, which is not something, you know, we can really control.

SIMON: Meg Howrey's novel - "They're Going To Love You." Thank you so much for being with us.

HOWREY: Oh, thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.