Cassie Stocks’ Dance, Gladys, Dance is written in the first person narrative, that person being Frieda. Frieda is lost. That’s how I see her. She is between jobs, going nowhere in life, a lot of unfulfilled endeavours such as university and her joy of painting. Through a newspaper ad, she meets Mr. H (that’s what she calls him), a friendly widower, and soon moves into his home, renting a room. In this home, Frieda meets Gladys and soon discovers that Gladys is a ghost. They have conversations about life, what was, what could have been, and what may be. We meet a lot of interesting characters. Ginny is Frieda’s best friend who works very hard to impress her employers in hopes of a promotion. Norman is Frieda’s boyfriend. He’s a millionaire through the porn industry – a business that Frieda is not impressed with. Norman’s mother is quite interesting as well. Then there is Miss Kesstle, Mr. H’s neighbour, who has crocheted doilies and placed them throughout her home. Whitman is Mr. H’s missing son – they haven’t spoken to each other in years. Whitman is a screenwriter but the work is actually written by a drug addict called Marilyn. She writes amazing stories and sells them to Whitman for drug money. Whitman distributes them as his work. Finally there is Girl who is street kid with a knack for creating art.
Dance, Gladys, Dance (DGD) speaks of all these people and more, their lives intertwining in humourous and sometimes sad ways. Frieda, through these occurrences is trying to get through life, find a decent job, a proper place to call home, and be stable. My impression is that she’s depressed as well. She does nothing to improve her looks, always buys non-descript secondhand clothing, has no confidence, has low self esteem. Her life changes when she moves into Mr. H’s home. She meets new people, has relationships with men, has new experiences. Dance, Gladys, Dance provides twists, mysteries to solve, unexpected situations and also an unhappy ending.
I didn’t think DGD was going to be a book about feminism and female issues and how the world continually pushes women down, taking advantage of them and finally controlling them. This hidden theme snuck up on me.
While there were a variety of characters, both female and male, I felt that DGD was written to focus on the women, on their differences, their attempts at achieving difficult and simple endeavours, and their successes and failures. But they weren’t in your face; they slowly, one by one, whispered into the scenes. And yes, the female characters were the overall important beings in DGD, including Gladys the ghost. When reading a book, I usually try to solve the murder, or the mystery, or identify who the story is really about. For Dance, Gladys, Dance my search as to find out who the story was really about. You would think DGD is about Frieda, the protagonist, but as I read the book, I felt that Frieda was more a conduit, the means to another person. She would save this other person. Was that person Gladys, a ghost who never let go of her life on earth. Is Frieda supposed to help Gladys complete a specific task in life to finally be able to move to the next world. Was it Girl. Was the goal in the book to find Girl a home with a loving family, success through her art – I thought that’s what it was, until it wasn’t. What about Marilyn. Is her story about redemption? Maybe the neighbour Miss Kessel – lonely sole picking up strays. How about the best friend Jenny…, and it goes on and on.
It soon became obvious that all events in the book would invariably lead to Frieda painting again. That’s one guess I got right. But the other outcomes were mostly unexpected twists. In a sense the book didn’t end as I thought it would. I can see now that DGD was not about giving us a happy ending. But about making a statement, leaving a mark. There isn’t a happy ending for every woman; each of their story had to play out as it did …mostly.
In the end, what I’d like to know is how big is Mr. H’s house? I can’t remember who all stayed in his home and at one time. He always seemed to have room for another person. Maybe Mr. H’s home is like the TARDIS, bigger on the inside.