“Dance Lessons” by Aine Greaney is a novel that begins in Boston before moving to the rugged beauty of Ireland. About a year after her husband’s (Fintan Dowd) death in a sailing accident off Martha’s Vineyard, Ellen Boisvert discovers by accident that her immigrant husband of almost 15 years was not an orphan at all as she always thought.
Ellen, a 39-year-old successful prep school teacher, decides to visit Ireland to learn more about Fintan and his family. Just before the fatal accident, Ellen had decided to leave Fintan. Now she can put her own troubled remembrances of Fintan to rest and find closure. Once in Ireland, however, Ellen learns his mother is very much alive and living in Gowna, a lakeside village on the family’s isolated hilltop farm on the west coast.
In this quaint village, Jo, Fintan’s 84-year old cantankerous mother, is dying of lung cancer. She is sour and resentful but the goodness left in her slowly surfaces as she and Ellen become friends. Ellen eventually decides to take care of her mother-in-law.
Cat is a minor character, yet the book is named for her weekly hip-hop lessons. Cat is Fintan’s 14-year-old daughter from a long-ago romance with a local village woman, with whom Cat lives in London. She is introduced to represent the youngest of three generations of women whose lives intermingle unexpectedly.
But there are major secrets, bitter mistakes and feelings of regret and remorse in the village. Ellen begins to uncover bits and pieces of her Irish husband’s past that explain his alienation while she tries to figure out the social dynamics of a small Irish village. Ellen eventually begins to heal and remember the good that had been in Fintan, just as she finds some good in the people who had caused Fintan so much pain in his youth.
This is a story of loss, regret, forgiveness and, ultimately, transformation. Aine Greaney creates a story that makes the reader understand and even empathize with the difficult Irish townspeople. A unique aspect of the tale is that the one person who brings everyone together is an outsider.