Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Ballerina, the Gymnast, and the Yoga Master by RJ Silver

ballerina gymnast yoga master cover

Anna is chillin' in Central Park, reading, rockin' the sweat pants--when she spots a handsome stranger sitting on the bench next to her with a bouquet of roses. Anna is pretty sure he's way out of her league, but as he keeps distracting her with morose sighs, she feels like she has to ask him if anything's the matter. Soon Vincent (who is not only handsome but a billionaire) is telling Anna all about the disastrous last three relationships he's had. Vincent keeps falling in love with various women--the elegant Russian ballerina, á la "good Nina" from Black Swan; the fiery Latina gymnast; and the spiritual Asian yogi--all of whom go into a personal and career nose-dive once Vincent gets his claws into them. Is there something wrong with Vincent other than the fact that he's emotionally immature and has commitment issues?

This is another short and funny romantic comedy from RJ Silver (of the ever-popular Princess and the Penis). It is just as funny as The P & the P, but not as romantic. Also--ironically--it's much more sexually explicit. But I was much more interested in the implicit sexual nuances relating to prowess, masculinity, reflexivity, and performance.

All the women Vincent dates are employed in fields mythologized for their implied sexual prowess (I couldn't help but think of the Seinfeld episode where he dates a gymnast). Vincent takes on the women's skills in order to woo them, and as he gets better at ballet/gymnastics/yoga, he becomes more attractive to them. There's an interesting reflexiveness going on here, since it seems like Vincent desires not only the women but their professional artistry, even though these métiers aren't considered "manly." Vincent calls watching a man dance a ballet a "visual assault" on his heterosexuality, yet he clearly loves ballet. Mastering these stereotypically "gay" skills is made acceptable by the fact that Vincent is doing it in pursuit of a woman, and proficiency of the tasks equates to Vincent's heterosexual finesse. Yet eventually the women start reflecting Vincent back at himself, and it's then that the relationships begin to go downhill, for the parts of his personality they take on are the parts he rejected by assuming their roles.

What confused me about the story was how Anna is different from all these other women. Perhaps her relationship with Vincent is successful because they both take on fictional roles, thus never reflecting one another back at themselves. Vincent is allowed to hide from himself forever and Anna can be any type of woman he wants, like a chameleon. There might be a larger statement to be made here about how we all take on "roles" in a relationship to help keep it stable, but I'm not sure if Silver is arguing for or against it, or if there's even enough time spent on Anna and Vincent's relationship to make an argument.

The only thing that threw the novella off for me was the persistent ethnic stereotyping, and not just with the women. Of course the Cuban gymnast has to be passionate, and someone name Enrique has to be a pool boy, and so on. Maybe Silver meant to satirize these stereotypes, but it seemed a little too casual for that.

In any case, the story is still funny--not as cute and sweet and The Princess and the Penis, but a quick and fun read nevertheless. I have to say, The Ballerina, the Gymnast, and the Yoga Master offered a surprising amount of thought for food. I definitely recommend you check it out and hope Silver keeps writing and publishing!

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