Booklist – September 15, 2014
Though the glory days of the Ballroom are long gone, some New Yorkers still make time for a trip to the faded dance hall. Young dancers with big dreams brush up on new steps, while others scan the room for ideal dance (and perhaps romantic) partners. The eternally suave Gabriel treats the Ballroom as his own private meat market, while elderly Harry only has eyes for one dancer. As the connections among the regular group of dancers begin to spill over into life outside the Ballroom, the ensemble realizes how sacred their Sunday time and space really is. Simpson has a clear and passionate eye for ballroom dance, peppering the novel with dance terminology and commonly used songs. Each chapter opens with a short passage from some of the earliest ballroom dance handbooks, highlighting the importance of social graces and traditions. Simpson’s lush prose will envelop readers in the sights, sounds, and textures of the dance hall, though the novel isn’t particularly plot-driven. Fans of Jennifer Haigh and those welcoming a many-voiced, richly drawn experience will enjoy the poignant and emotional Ballroom.
— Stephanie Turza
Library Journal – August 1, 2014
Simpson’s first novel narrates the stories of five characters whose passion for ballroom dance and search for true love brings them together every Sunday night. The fictional New York Ballroom—years past its prime (think the recently closed Roseland Ballroom)—mirrors the dancers’ dreams that have, for most, turned drab and stale. The introduction of each figure in short but well-crafted chapters can be tricky at first. The fast-paced interconnected stories require the reader to associate each character with the matching description. Then the narrative begins to flow as fluidly as the accomplished dancers who “seem caught in a whirlwind.” Unmarried Joseph; three-time divorcee Sarah; 65-year-old Harry, in love with Maria, a woman young enough to be his daughter; handsome Angel, who dreams of opening his own dance studio; and lonely Gabriel, mired in a failing marriage—each is consumed by the quest for a fairy-tale ending. But in Sarah’s concluding story, she gives voice to the complexities and disappointments in life. “As if it was like a dance. This step, that step. Quick-quick-slow, just that simple. Always moving clockwise around the floor. But it isn’t like that. Life has no simple steps you can follow.”
This touching debut captures the intricacies and the unexpected of personal relationships.
—Jane Leder, Evanston, IL
Kirkus Reviews – July 31, 2014
Simpson brings to life the vibrant essence of the Ballroom, a once-grand dance club in late 1990s New York City, in her debut novel.Every Sunday night, Simpson’s six characters head to the Ballroom; they all know each other on a superficial level but don’t share the deeper secrets and longings they carefully hide behind their groomed facades. We get to know them as we hear their stories in alternating chapters, as in Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. Harry, old and alone, lives a private life in his top-floor apartment; when he shares a secret with young Maria, it eventually comes to light with tragic results. Maria finds salvation in her longtime dance partner, Angel. Dull Joseph, never married, yearns for insecure Sarah, who’s been married three times, while Sarah dreams of married playboy Gabriel. There remains an emotional divide between partners, despite the physical intimacy of the tangos, salsas and waltzes they share. There’s sexual tension but little true closeness. The Ballroom is a place of rampant hopes and dreams that seldom get fulfilled, in spite of the dancers’ efforts. The characters strive for what they want, but most have no real sense of how to get it. Simpson is a master at creating realistic characters who are flawed, a bit unappealing and yet sympathetic. Life goes on much in the manner in which it began. But this isn’t a bad thing—it feels real, even refreshing, not to have a neatly wrapped, feel-good ending—but rather a plain old life-goes-on. Readers who enjoy seeing inside the hearts and minds of others will relish sharing the lives of Simpson’s creations.