Like I Used To Dance
“Oh, Grace, our kids,” laughed Bud. “Where did we go wrong? One marries God, another a Jew and the last one, the devil!”
Texas, 1951. The Wolanskis—Grace, Bud and their three grown children—are a close-knit clan, deeply rooted in their rural community and traditional faith. On their orderly farm, life seems good and tomorrow always holds promise.
But under the surface, it’s a different story. Grace is beset by dark memories and nameless fears that she keeps secret even from Bud. Their son Andy has said no to becoming a farmer like his dad and, worse, fallen in love with a big-city Jewish girl. Youngest child Regina is trapped in a loveless marriage to an abusive, alcoholic husband. Even “perfect” daughter Angela’s decision to become a nun takes an unforeseen turn.
And then Ceil Dollard breezes into town.
Ceil—wealthy, sophisticated, irrepressible—is like a visitor from Mars. She’s a modern woman. She drives a car and wears pants. She blows away tradition and certainty, forcing Grace to face her fears and brave a changing world. Through Ceil, Grace learns about courage and freedom—but at the risk of losing Bud.
Barbara Frances’ sparkling, richly human novel takes you back to a time when Ike was president and life was slower, but people were the same as now. You’ll encounter a cast of characters storm-tossed by change, held together by love. Written with compassion, humor and suspense, Like I Used to Dance will charm you, warm you and even squeeze a few tears, from its opening number to the last waltz.
This is another book in a recent series of ones that I would not have picked for myself to read under regular circumstances. I think this follows my string of reviews of books like Once upon a Life, Wake Me Up and heck even Clean.
This is again not one of those fun light hearted or fantasy novels that I enjoy reading, this is again something real.
The book was overall very well written. It is very well detailed in terms of the characters and situations. So not usually my favourite thing but I know a lot of readers that love that level of detailing.
We have a lot of surprises readily available in relations to the characters, and I found certain elements maybe controversial but I am not 100% sure. I believe that may be in terms of perspective and who the reader is.
It is very clear that Barbara paid quite a bit of attention into the creation of the storyline and all the backgrounds. I think it is usually quite important in these types of books because they bring such an added value in terms of atmosphere and understanding.
In fact, it was very easy to get sucked into the book.
To be honest, I have no clue of what life was like in Texas in the 50’s, but this is an interesting portrayal of the era of families, values, the way of living and it makes me thank God every day that I did not live in those times. It is like time traveling while sitting on your couch or in bed as it is usually my case.
I think Like I Used to Dance would appeal to quite a large audience as it is a nicely written novel. Now, we have to see what Barbara does next, will she stay in the same style of books or is she going to attempt something radically different?
Now, we wait and see my friends.
Ceil had brought over a bottle of wine and some fancy cheeses. Grace felt like a celebrity. She asked Bud and Ceil to sit on the couch in the parlor. Slowly and carefully she furled the bed sheet from the easel revealing the newly dried canvas. It was a painting she had copied from an old black and white photo of the children.
Nine-year-old Andy stood on the creek bank with his little fishing pole while ten- year-old Angela held a wriggly worm for him. To the side and in the background five-year-old Regina looked on with awe at her older siblings.
There was a long moment of silence before Bud could catch his breath. “I’ve never felt anything like this. I’m… It touches my heart,” he said and began to applaud. Ceil joined in. Grace couldn’t remember such joy flooding over her, not even when her children were born. The wine was opened and for the first time in her life Grace got tipsy over the course of the evening. Sitting between Bud and Ceil, she hugged one and then the other like a child who had been away from its mom and dad for several days.
“Ceil, I know I promised you my first painting,” she said, slurring her words, “but this one’s for Bud. I hope you don’t mind.” Bud kissed her on the cheek. He felt like a prince.
Ceil paused with a serious expression on her face. “Well, I guess I’ll have to take back all the brushes, canvases and stuff I got you.” Laughter sailed through the open windows.
A few days later, Regina dropped by and stood for a long time silently taking in Grace’s painting. Grace marveled at how pretty she was these days. She was regaining her health and an interest in her appearance. Finally, Regina said softly, “You paint like I used to dance.”
Barbara Frances has plenty of stories and a life spent acquiring them. Growing up Catholic on a small Texas farm, her childhood ambition was to become a nun. In ninth grade she entered a boarding school in Our Lady of the Lake Convent as an aspirant, the first of several steps before taking vows. The Sisters were disappointed, however, when she passed up the habit for the University of North Texas, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English and Theater Arts.
Her professors were similarly disappointed when she passed up a postgraduate degree to become a stewardess for American Airlines. Barbara, however, never looked back. “In the Sixties, a stewardess was a glamorous occupation.” Some highlights include an evening on the town with Chuck Berry and “opening the bar” for a planeload of young privates on their way to Vietnam.
Barbara eventually returned to Texas and settled down. Marriage, children, school teaching and divorce distracted her from storytelling, but one summer she and a friend coauthored a screenplay. “I never had such fun! I come from a family of storytellers. Relatives would come over and after dinner everyone would tell tales. Sometimes they were even true.”
The next summer Barbara wrote a screenplay on her own. Others followed, including Two Women, a finalist in the 1990 Austin Screenwriters Festival. Three more were optioned: Silent Crossing, The Anniversary and Sojourner Truth. Barbara left teaching and continued to work on her screenplays. In 1992, exhausted by endless rewrites she did something many screenwriters threaten but few carry out. She turned down an option renewal, done forever with writing—or so she thought.
It was not to be. One day a friend’s child found and read Lottie’s Adventure, her script for a children’s movie. At her young fan’s urging, Barbara turned it into a book, published by Positive Imaging, LLC, her husband Bill’s press. For Like I Used to Dance Barbara drew upon childhood memories and “front porch stories.” Her next novel, Shadow’s Way, is a “Southern Gothic tale” about a woman caught in the struggle to keep her beloved plantation home from a scheming archbishop.
Barbara and her husband Bill Benitez live in Austin, Texas.
Barbara Frances will be awarding a $25 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.