It is a fact of today’s society that body consciousness is a major issue for most women. Sometimes, it is a matter of a simple wish to have a larger bust or smaller hips. Other times, it becomes an all-encompassing obsession. When one works in a profession in which the body and all of its physical glory are on display, body consciousness takes on a whole new meaning. Penny’s concerns about her body type, as well as her fierce determination to keep her body as small as possible, are heartbreaking in how easily she is able to diminish the scope of her talent because she feels she is too big to become any type of success. It is a sad fact that while most women will never face similar scrutiny both on stage and off, all women can empathize with Penny’s pain at thinking herself too heavy, her thighs too bulky, her hips too wide to ever be considered beautiful. That someone as strong and graceful and artistic as Penny can succumb to the same societal pressures is incredibly telling.
The Art of Falling discusses not only body image but also the importance of embracing life. Unlike Penny, most people are not going to get a second chance, something her friendship with Angela drives home in the most direct manner. Angela is the type of person most people hope to become. Penny might dance for a living, but Angela dances through life. As Penny struggles to regain control over her body amid its injuries, it is Angela’s magnanimity and vibrancy in the face of her cystic fibrosis that starts Penny onto the true road to recovery.
Ms. Craft deals delicately with Penny’s fall and the reasons behind it. As she faces the painful memories that brought her to the ledge, a reader realizes just how deep her poor body image affected her overall mental health. Readers can see how needy she is, how desperate she is for approval from the dance community at large, how embarrassed she is about her roots, and just how all of these all coalesced to drive her into the hospital. It is a disturbing story to watch unfold, if only because it is a story to which most readers can unfortunately relate.
The Art of Falling is not a happy story; it is a hopeful one. Angela’s decline never diminishes her zest for life, while Penny reassesses everything she once held to be important. Life is not perfect, something Penny must learn. That process is awkward and more painful than it needs to be, but therein lies the story’s beauty. The descriptions of dance and movement are just as gorgeous. There is fluidity to the narrative that mirrors the fluidity of movement, a fitting tribute to Penny’s story.