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Dance Lessons

A Novel

Aine Greaney

Publication Year: 2011

A year after her husband’s death in a sailing accident off Martha’s Vineyard, Ellen Boisvert bumps into an old friend. In this chance encounter, she discovers that her immigrant husband of almost fifteen years was not an orphan after all. Instead, his aged mother Jo is alive and residing on the family’s isolated farm in the west of Ireland. Faced with news of her mother-in-law incarnate, the thirty-nine-year-old American prep school teacher decides to travel to Ireland to investigate the truth about her husband Fintan and why he kept his family’s existence a secret for so many years. Between Jo’s hilltop farm and the lakeside village of Gowna, Ellen begins to uncover the mysteries of her Irish husband’s past and the cruelties and isolation of his rural childhood. Ellen also stumbles upon Fintan’s long-ago romance with a local village woman, with whom he had a daughter, Cat. Cat is now fourteen and living with her mother in London. As Ellen reconciles her troubled relationship with Fintan, she discovers a way to heal the wounds of the past.

Published by: Syracuse University Press

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pp. 1-4

The kitchen phone is ringing again. This time, everyone ignores it until a young man named Liam from County Offally pushes through the party crowd to pick it up. His voice is husky from sleep. He is not long awake and up after sleeping off his night shift in a Back Bay hotel. He stands there shouting above the music and the voices, pale, skinny legs...


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pp. 5

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pp. 7-14

Ellen Boisvert is munching on a lobster salad and scanning the real estate ads in the Coventry Daily Gazette when she feels someone watching her. The Risen Planet Café is packed with the usual business crowd--the gallery owners and bankers and real estate agents that comprise Coventry-by...

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pp. 15-21

The Coventry Academy campus sits in that sudden, after-semester quiet. The white school vans sit parked outside the long, one-story janitor's shed. From the lawns behind the library, a lawnmower buzzes, grows louder, then fades again....

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pp. 22-25

Breezily, as casually as if Ellen were calling for an Interfl ora fl orist, he says, "A listing for that name: Dowd, Mrs. J. Hold on for the number please." Then, the electronic voice: "The number you requested is . . . country code 353, 094 . . ."

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pp. 26-29

The plane bumps twice. The head flight attendant announces, "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Ireland. We ask you to remain seated until the plane comes to a complete stop. For those of you traveling on with us to Dublin . . ." Then she repeats the message in Irish. A Cháirde, Failte romhaimh go hÉireann....

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pp. 30-32

She's been standing in the carpeted lobby of Flanagan's Hotel for over ten minutes, studying the patchwork of yellow sticky notes along the flocked wallpaper above the reception desk, last year's wall calendar with its sepia photograph of one of the shops she's just driven past. "Season's...

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pp. 33-38

Ellen stands there in the pebbled churchyard to take in St. John's Church, Gowna--the stone Gothic steeple against the fading, evening sky. This is the church where someone took that snapshot of first communion Fintan with his mother and father....

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pp. 39-45

When he came to visit her at her Cape Cod summer job, or, later, when they drove to a lake in New Hampshire, Fintan always skipped stones over the water. He could stand there for hours just watching the stone skip, the plash-plash sound. He said that it reminded him of his youth. So once, he...

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pp. 46-50

When the shop door pings open, the women stop their early morning chatter to stare at the woman in the bright yellow rain slicker. There are five of them gathered around the checkout counter at Gowna Foodmart. One is drinking tea from a paper cup. Ellen has the feeling that she's intruded on...

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pp. 53-58

She buttons up the coat, pulls on the cap, and pulls the back door shut behind her. Then off with her, the walking cane tap-tapping across the lower farmyard to the orchard wall where her farmhand Ned's car sits parked, the car's roof dotted with white apple blossoms from the trees....

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pp. 59-65

Most mornings, she hears Ned's step in the back kitchen, then the kitchen presses opening and shutting. He comes, mar dhea, to look for cattle doses or a syringe for a weakling calf. He has started this pretense, this malarkey because he knows that she's sick again, that the cursed cancer's back....

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pp. 66-68

These are places and towns that John and Jo Dowd, the honeymoon couple, have only heard of on the wireless or in the newspaper. At each country station, people stand waiting with their coat collars pulled up, their breaths fogging on the freezing afternoon. From the train windows, the Dowds...

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pp. 69-72

Jo hooks her cane on the edge of the kitchen sink and plugs in the electric kettle for tea. This morning she's going to entice Ned back inside. She's going to set a place for him at the kitchen table, where they'll have their breakfast together. Just like old times. Just like when Ned and the...

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pp. 73-75

Mother sends a car to the bus stop in the village. It's waiting for them when they arrive, the same man and driver who, a week ago, drove them down through the frozen landscape to their wedding at St. John's Church....

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pp. 76-78

Mother's eyes stray to her older daughter's waist. Jo catches her mother's knowing smirk. There is a woman's justice here. On a farm all things spawn themselves into the new season, into the next generation. It has happened in the very room where Mother, as a new bride to this house, conceived Jo....

Jo and Ellen

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pp. 79

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pp. 81-87

The smell of turf smoke is stronger here, just inside the farmyard gate, so close to the Dowds' house. Ellen watches a small man walking across the yard. It's a smaller, second farmyard that sits just beyond the house. His shoulders are hunched into the rain. He wears an old tweed cap and a thick moustache....

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pp. 88-91

Ellen. Jo recites the name in her head, rolls it around among her racing thoughts. Ellen. Funny how that name is changed now, all changed. Even though it's the same signature on that letter Jo got late last November. But now, in just one day, it's all changed....

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pp. 92-99

Ellen is standing in the shadows, watching a crowd in a town square. The people stand in the sunshine whispering, watching, waiting. There, under a lamppost, stands Louise, Ellen's sister. And there's Viktor Ortiz, her colleague and next-door neighbor at Coventry Academy, standing there...

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pp. 100-104

Jo's face is flaccid. Still dressed in her stained old cardigan and the crumpled brown pants, but she's surprisingly chipper and rested. Ellen watches the old woman's eyes stray toward the windowsill, toward the ashtray and the cigarettes, where they're stashed under a newspaper....

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pp. 105-108

She's going to sleep in Jo's old upstairs room, where she can hear the old woman knocking through the parlor ceiling. When Ellen got back from the village, Jo was asleep in her bed again, still in her clothes, snoring lightly....

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pp. 109-112

"We'll pay for this yet," the woman from Gowna Foodmart says, hands on hips and looking up at the pink evening sky over Flanagan's Hotel. The woman has followed Ellen out onto the sidewalk to take her sandwich-board sign--"Fresh sandwiches. Take-away Coffee & Tea"--in...


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pp. 113

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pp. 115-119

Terrence rests his elbow on the ledge of the open car window. He taps on the steering wheel as they wait for a group of tourists to cross at the traffic light, all dawdley and slow, the leader guy glancing up from his London A-Z street map, pointing up the street. Japanese, all of them, with...

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pp. 120-123

Dance class is over and Cat is just crossing the floor to the studio door when Miss J shouts over all the girls' chattering voices. "Um . . . Catherine," Miss Jarkowski says. "Yes, you. Could you come into the office please?"...

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pp. 124-128

He was waiting at the train station for them, just standing there waving them over and pronouncing their name--Cawley--in his foreign accent and getting it all wrong. Her and Mum followed him to a white van with "Cripton Academy" written in curly letters along the side, beneath the...

Jo and Ellen

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pp. 129

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pp. 131-136

She pushes in the door to a wide-awake Jo, the raccoon eyes above the bed cover, and the walking cane--Jo's tap-tap Morse code--set alongside her, right there in the bed. Amid all these sick-room accoutrements, the cane is the last vestige of the old spitfire Jo....

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pp. 137-139

The curtains are drawn in Mother's room, the room in the gable of the house. It's been a week since Father's funeral. After their Sunday lunch, Mother went to bed to sleep, to keen her rosaries into the shadowy, silent room. Kitty is upstairs packing her suitcase, packing up her black funeral...

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pp. 140-147

Riona and Lorcan Fitzgerald are hybrids of their mother and father, the doctor and his wife. Riona has Ruth's blue eyes. Lorcan has his mother's dark hair but his father's pale, freckled complexion. Riona is thirteen. Lorcan is eleven....

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pp. 148-152

Two months earlier, September, Ellen had answered an advertisement looking for a roommate in a shared apartment in Brookline, just west of the city. She had started her first, post-college position as an editorial assistant at Rheinhardt Publishers, specialists in foreign-language textbooks for...

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pp. 153-157

The girl tip toes from the room and shuts the door. Jo listens to her footsteps in the parlor, then up the stairs. Then the water rushes through the pipes. One of these days, that girl will wash her own flesh off. Her skin and hair will go floating through the house and out to the septic beyond...

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pp. 158-160

Today the man in the hay-baling machine is working in one of the lower meadows. Ack-ack-ack goes the engine. It grows louder, more raucous through the open bedroom window....

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pp. 161-167

There's something birdlike about his long, stooping back. With the bucket of seed potatoes, he stoops and stands, stoops and stands. She plants the neighboring ridge, but a hundred yards behind him. Their Wellingtons thuck-thuck in the newly turned earth. Mother and son follow...

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pp. 168-172

Father Noel Bradley's front door is set open to a tiled hallway. From a room at the end, what looks like a kitchen, comes music from a radio, a radio program playing Bach....

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pp. 173-175

"But you can't beat the travel ," a woman is saying to Jo. Here, in her bedroom, the sick room off the parlor. First, the woman and her jaunty little voice are the dream, but then suddenly, the woman is right there, standing at the end of Jo's bed. It's that silly little woman in the...

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pp. 176-182

"A dream, Ell," Fintan said over his shoulder from the mirror above the bookshelves in their tiny Brookline apartment. He was fastening his tie--the tie he was wearing with his new suit to his first professional job in Boston....

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pp. 183-188

After the visit to Father Bradley's and the village, Ellen gets back late to the house in Knockduff. As she drives in through the farmyard gates, she sees only Ned's mud-spattered car in its usual spot. Nurse Ryan's blue car is already gone. It will be fine, she assures herself. After Nurse Ryan's visit,...

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pp. 189-193

She watches the boy sleeping, his cheek resting against the heifer's belly. The lantern sends shadows leaping and creeping across the stable walls. The cows shift in their manager. The milk hisses into the galvanized buckets: hss-hss-hss. He's sporting a teenage boy's fuzz on his chin, on his...

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pp. 194-198

So he feels confi dent of getting his first college choice: a new, European Union--funded degree program in international business offered at University College Galway. Long before he took his exams this past June, he has talked of nothing else. International business. It's what he...

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pp. 199-206

Something skitters through the grass, straight across Ellen's path. Rabbit? Field mouse? It's the 27th of July already--so just a few weeks until Fintan's one-year death anniversary. The way things look, she'll be already landed back home then by mid-August. Home. The word stalls....

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pp. 207-210

Since his first leaving she has grown used to it, this silence, the tick-tock of the wall clock, the quiet, secret rhythm of her days. Even Rosie the dog seems to have muted her mad, barking ways. In the winters, especially this last winter when, except for Christmas, he has found reasons not to come...

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pp. 211-220

"They're gone to the pictures," Tom Fitzgerald says, as he shows Ellen into a huge living room set with cream leather couches and russet-colored walls. "In Castlebar. Dinner in a burger place first, then some action flick Lorcan's been going on about for weeks. The kids were...

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pp. 221-225

So Jo, laughing, kneels and then flops down in the overgrown summer meadow in front of the house. She stretches out, her hands above her head. There is a smell, a musky smell. It's wild honeysuckle--the wild honeysuckle that grows all over the hazel rock....


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pp. 227

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pp. 229-230

There's a light out there on the lake, appearing and disappearing in the dark and through the trees along the headland. Then Ellen hears voices--a woman's first, then a man's, both amplified by the waters of Lough Gowna. They sound so close that they could be standing right next to her, standing...

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pp. 231-239

Behind this older waitress stands the younger Latvian girl who usually serves at breakfast time. The younger girl passes the remaining plates to the older, florid-faced waitress. Beef, roast chicken, poached salmon. And a large green salad for Riona Fitzgerald who has announced that, now that...

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pp. 240-244

The tube from Heathrow Airport speeds into the sunlight, past the upstairs windows and the red-brick gables of south London houses. Ellen checks her cell phone again. No missed calls. Damn....

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pp. 245-255

Ellen slides two crisp dollar bills under the park ranger's Plexiglas window. He passes her a tiny green ticket and points her toward the open parking spots along the fence. She rolls up the car window and bumps across the packed-mud parking lot, past the wooden sign with the white...

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pp. 256-261

"Girls, girls, girls!" Mrs. Pritchard shouts up at them on stage. Her voice is all echoey in the empty theater. "Start again. Please. From the top. Gerda, let's start right back to the roses again. And you, yes, Catherine, let's drop the ax-murderer look, darling, okay? You're supposed to be...

E-ISBN-13: 9780815650737
E-ISBN-10: 0815650736
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815609841
Print-ISBN-10: 0815609841

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Irish Americans -- Fiction.
  • Widows -- Fiction.
  • Domestic fiction.
  • Psychological fiction.
  • Family secrets -- Fiction.
  • Americans -- Ireland -- Fiction.
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