Father Whiting, a St. Louis priest, feels like he’s asleep in his own life. He is worried about how well he’s performing in his job at a local teaching hospital, he’s concerned by his mother’s increasingly strange behavior, and he has just found out that one of his oldest friends has terminal cancer. The one bright spot in his life these days is Sarah James, the hospital’s head of public relations and someone who has become a very good friend to Father Whiting lately. When Sarah informs him of the fact that a Central American circus is going to be taking up residence practically in their backyard, he decides to minister to the people of the circus and while doing so, his bond with Sarah grows even deeper. It is his relationships with Sarah and later a trapeze artist named Nikolai that illuminate for Whiting how lonely he’s become and inspire him to make changes to his own life.
I am of two minds about this book. On the one hand, the characters were charming and held my interest, but on the other hand I found many of the events in the story rather difficult to believe, as well as confusing in parts. Overall I can’t say I particularly liked the book but I didn’t dislike it either – it’s one of those in-between situations. Allow me to explain in better detail.
I definitely appreciated the characterization in this novel. Father Whiting is an extremely interesting character – while easy for the reader to like, he also frustrated me multiple times throughout the book as he has moments of extreme selfishness. I definitely rooted for him to “find himself” as they say, but at the same time he was so wishy-washy about his feelings towards everyone – first he was annoyed with his mother and then he loved her, first he was obsessed with Sarah and then she irritated him, etc. His character was just a bit inconsistent. I did still, however, find him charming, probably because he was adorably unsure of himself, didn’t know how to properly give and receive love, and was truly just trying to figure his life out. One character I genuinely liked was Sarah. She, to me, was a realistic character who behaved and spoke very naturally – I was absolutely drawn to her. She clearly had innocent, friendly feelings toward Whiting even though his feelings may not have always mirrored that and I appreciated that Tressler did not make their relationship into something more than it was, even though it did seem to be heading in that direction for a while there.
The writing in the novel was sort of touch and go for me. At times, I was captivated by the prose and there were some really beautiful passages for me to enjoy. But other times, unfortunately, the writing felt awkward and clunky and the dialogue felt forced. Maybe it was just me but I did feel that the writing was inconsistent.
One thing I really did like about Dancing with Gravity was the fact that I was treated to an insider’s view of life in a circus. The characters in the circus were vivid and interesting and I loved reading about what the circus life really is about. It reminded me of Water for Elephants (a book I LOVE) in that sense.
Here’s the tricky part because I really did not like where Tressler decided to take the plot in the last third of the book. It went in a direction I simply didn’t understand and I’m not sure what the point of it was. I don’t do spoilers so all I can say is that the ending just did not make sense to me. And sadly enough, it negatively affected my feelings towards the book as a whole.
I didn’t mean for this review to sound as negative as it has, but I was as honest as possible about my feelings towards Dancing with Gravity and I think that showed. I didn’t hate the book by any means but it definitely has not been one of my favorites. There were a lot of aspects to the novel that I saw as being inconsistent and I simply could not get on board with the ending. For these reasons I probably would not recommend this novel. Of course there have been other readers who did enjoy the book (check out Heather’s review at Raging Bibliomania for starters) but it just wasn’t my cup of tea.