The Complete Ballet

The Complete Ballet
A Fictional Essay in Five Acts
John Haskell

“Haskell’s achievement lies in both the sustained emotional stakes of his book and in the fruitful experiment in adaptation and ekphrasis.”The New Republic

“[The Complete Ballet is] both spontaneous and sculpted, fragmented yet also fluid, a construction that mimics the ever-changing contours of a broken heart.”BOMB

About the Book

A dark-hued, hybrid novel by a writer who “delivers our culture back to us, made entirely new” (A. M. Homes)
In The Complete Ballet, John Haskell choreographs an intricate and irresistible pas de deux in which fiction and criticism come together to create a new kind of story. Fueled by the dramatic retelling of five romantic ballets (La Sylphide, GiselleLa BayadèreSwan Lake, and Petrushka) and interwoven with a contemporary story about a man whose daunting gambling debt pushes him to the edge of his own abyss, it is both a pulpy entertainment and a meditation on the physicality—and psychology—of dance.
            The unnamed narrator finds himself inexorably drawn back to the pre-cell phone world of Technicolor Los Angeles, to a time when the tragedies of his life were about to collide. Working as a part-time masseur in Hollywood, he attends an underground poker game with his friend Cosmo, a strip-club entrepreneur. What happens there hurtles the narrator down the road and into the room where the novel’s violent and surreal showdown leaves him a different person.
            As the narrator revisits his past, he simultaneously inhabits and reconstructs the mythic stories of ballet, assessing along the way the lives and obsessions of Nijinsky and Balanchine, Pavlova and Fonteyn, Joseph Cornell and the story’s presiding spirit, the film director John Cassavetes. This compulsively readable fiction is ultimately a profound and haunting consideration of the nature of art and identity.

Additional Reviews

“A maker of compact, thoughtful experiments in abstraction, Haskell plays games with narrative perspective and collage that leave space for intense themes and melodies to drift slowly into his novels.”Los Angeles Review of Books

“Chances are good that you’ve never read a book quite like The Complete Ballet. . . . Engaging, illuminating, ridiculous, funny, heart-wrenching, and educational.”Washington Independent Review of Books

The Complete Ballet reads like a gracefully choreographed dance. . . . John Haskell is a master.”Parnassus Musing

“It’s this shape-shifting insistence we have as humans, as dancers trying our best not to collide with each other, that seems to be at the core of The Complete Ballet, and Haskell does a beautiful job suggesting the risky nature of this life.”PopMatters

“The artfulness and compelling power of [Haskell’s] prose is deceptive in its apparent simplicity: and raises the question of how it can be so funny, insightful and lightly worn. . . . The Complete Ballet is full of narrative surprises — often from one sentence to another. It can be read as a sophisticated noir novel even as it pointedly undercuts its own sophistication. . . . The writing on the page appears effortless. Grounded in its Cassavetes-influenced noir story, Haskell has composed a complete ballet that’s funny, harrowing, dark, and vertiginous.”3:AM Magazine

“[The Complete Ballet] blurs the line between fact and fiction, action and meditation, telling a story or a series of stories while at the same time reflecting on what they mean. The subject is ballet, about which Haskell is knowledgeable and astute. . . . He writes deftly, meaningfully, about the fluidity of experience and the self.”Kirkus Reviews

“Fiction and essay share the stage in Haskell’s captivating, erudite novel. . . . In imaginative, analytical, affectless prose, Haskell gives new life to well-known stories danced onstage, constructing interiorities and motivations for the characters, and drawing connections between the emotions of the ballets and his narrator’s story.”Publishers Weekly

The Complete Ballet is a marvelously inventive and compelling novel.”Largehearted Boy

“Spellbinding. . . . The expertise [Haskell] demonstrates about ballet engenders comfort, a sense of being in good hands, being told exactly what’s necessary. The book shifts regularly from fiction to criticism, from biography to character study, in gentle, expert scene changes visible on the stage.”Anomaly

“Using words to describe a primarily physical art form, in turn allowing those described steps and gestures to stand in where words cannot, makes Haskell into both choreographer and writer, and characters into dancers and vice versa. Its absorbing experiment—using one art to enhance and test another—also creates the dualism of our role as both reader and audience, positing us both in our seats and backstage, peering from the wings onto the stage, watching the spotlight drift from dancer to dancer.”Ploughshares

The Complete Ballet is seductive, mesmerizing, and wonderfully hybrid. Like Joseph Cornell, Haskell makes beautiful, intricate collages out of found cultural objects.  Like Nabokov’s Charles Kinbote, Haskell’s narrator slowly reveals himself through his essay.  But truly this book is like nothing else:  it is sui generis and wears its radical newness artfully.  Yes, it is obsessive, strange, precise—but it is also passionate and moving in its tenderness toward the beauty of the body and all the body’s longing and sorrow.”—Dana Spiotta

“In this beautifully choreographed novel, John Haskell’s engrossing narratives dance with romance, history, and crime, each fascinating, brilliantly written. It’s a rare book that has so much emotional and intellectual excitement. I loved reading it.”—Lynne Tillman

“There is no writer quite like, or anything like, John Haskell. Readers lucky enough to be familiar with his work will find The Complete Ballet to be the complete exemplar of what makes his voice and vision so strange and special. Readers new to his work may be even luckier. Here they will discover a new frontier in essaying and storytelling, a meditation on bodies, beauty, senses of place and varieties of luck delivered by a writer at the top of his form.”—Meghan Daum, author of The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects Of Discussion

“John Haskell writes deceptively breezy and engrossing fiction that simultaneously introduces readers to the future of storytelling. He has always been ahead of his time, and now, with The Complete Ballet, he proves without a doubt that he is among American fiction's most undaunted visionaries.”—Heidi Julavits