Early in The Turnout, the beautifully dark suspense novel from bestselling author Megan Abbott (Dare Me), readers will sense that all is not right in the Durant School of Dance, a prestigious yet moldering ballet studio.
It’s “Nutcracker” season, and the holiday staple brings in the bulk of the annual revenue for the school, which is run by the Durant sisters, Dara and Marie, and Dara’s husband, Charlie. Emotions are running high in the days leading up to the announcement of who will play Clara—the most coveted role but also the one that makes the dancer the target of cruel jealousy from both students and parents.
Marie, who had been living with Dara and Charlie ever since the sudden death of the sisters’ parents, has recently set up camp in the attic above the studio. A fire from her space heater leaves part of the studio in ruins, and a possibly shady contractor comes on board to help with renovations. The future of the studio is in jeopardy, forcing the sisters to revisit their traumatic childhood as they decide whether the Durant School is worth saving.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Megan Abbott on her fixation with ballet.
The Turnout submerses readers in the obsessive, toxic world of competitive ballet. Abbott perfectly describes the unique smells and atmosphere of a dance studio: a mix of sweat, vomit and hormones. She unsettlingly juxtaposes a sport that requires astonishing levels of discipline with the sugary sweet story of “The Nutcracker.” “Consider the exquisite torture of all those little girls never allowed to eat dancing as costumed Sugar Plums, as fat Bonbons gushing cherry slicks. Tutus like ribbon candy, boys spinning great hoops of peppermint, and everywhere black slathers of licorice and marzipan glistening like snow.”
Abbott layers dread and darkness as readers learn about the harrowing family home that shaped Dara and Marie and pulled Charlie into their lives. Virtually no one is who they seem, and Abbott keeps the twists coming until the final pages. The Turnout is the kind of gripping, unnerving page turner we have come to expect from an author who does noir better than almost anyone.