In an expertly choreographed work, Salt Lake City author Ka Hancock takes readers on a thrilling dance of their own in her debut novel, “Dancing on Broken Glass.”
Hardly a continuously smooth and flowing waltz, the story is full of dips and turns that lead readers into the hearts and challenges of Lucy Houston and Mickey Chandler. From the moment they first meet at Lucy’s 21st birthday party, the two experience definite chemistry. Yet, they look to be a particularly ill-fated match. He is plagued with bipolar disorder, while she has a devastating family history of breast cancer. For them to marry seems all wrong.
Even while fate and feelings draw them together, caution makes them look at the raw reality. As Mickey’s doctor puts it:
“Lucy, every marriage is a dance; complicated at times, lovely at times, most of the time very uneventful. But with Mickey, there will be times when your dance will be on broken glass. There will be pain. And you will either flee that pain or hold tighter and dance through it to the next smooth place.”
They choose to dance — for better or for worse.
Alternating writing from Lucy’s point of view and then from Mickey’s, the author leads readers into the rhythm and the discordance of their lives. She also introduces Lucy’s sisters, Lily and Priscilla, and their neighbors and friends. Then, steps the story through the pain of Mickey’s psychosis, the scare of Lucy’s cancer checks, and the joy and devotion they both demonstrate as they try to work through it all.
Then, 11 years into their committed, love-bears-all relationship, Lucy shows up for a routine physical and everything changes — everything they have built and practiced for 11 years is put to the test.
In crafting her story, Hancock drew from her own background as a psychiatric nurse, wife and mother, and a student of human relationships. In “Dancing on Broken Glass,” she exposes the horrors of mental illness, while at the same time reveals incredible hope along with the idea of “eternal continuation of life and love,” Hancock said.
“These are things I believe in, they are who I am. I wanted to convey the idea that love and family could go on,” she said.
“I wanted to tell a story that reflects real issues and shows that two people who are committed to one another can get through challenges and deal with difficult issues,” Hancock said.
She explains that in her work with families that a casualness about marriage and a lack of commitment to partnerships and families create what she calls a “bruise on our society.”
“Some may think it’s an idyllic view, but it’s so important. I believe that when you’re being your best self, when you understand yourself and really learn and understand the person you’re committed to, despite real, significant challenges, you can have something that lasts,” Hancock added.
While her book is respectful and well-written, Hancock says it does include swear words and some references to physical and initimate relationships.
“I wanted the book to deal with reality. I didn’t want to exploit the situations in the book, but in those few places, a ‘gosh darn’ just didn’t work. I wanted these people to be as real as possible,” Hancock said.
She added, “I like writing about relationships and complicated people really fascinate me.”
In fact, she explains, her new novel hinged on the creation of Mickey’s character. “With Mickey, I didn’t want to diminish the experience of mental illness, but I wanted to create a person who was accessible, who was a living, breathing, loveable man.
“I knew the diagnosis well enough that I knew people could be functional with bipolar disorder. When he became real to me, when I ‘knew’ him, the story just took off.”
“Dancing on Broken Glass” invites readers to join in a dance — it’s a dance that may change you, may cause a different perspective on relationships, renew faith in forever and may make you fall in love all over again.
IF YOU GO ...
What: Ka Hancock book signing
When: Thursday, March 15, 7 p.m.
Where: The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City
Cecily Markland is a freelance writer, book editor, publicist and author of "Hope: One Mile Ahead" and the children’s book, "If I Made a Bug." She owns Inglestone Publishing and produces a calendar of LDS events in Arizona. www.cecilymarkland.com