Study Guide

Dancing on the Edge Family

By Han Nolan

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In their last argument, Dane blamed Gigi for messing up his life, which he did every time they fought. Then he said that Opal should have been the one raising me. He said if I were with Opal, I would have turned out normal, and that Gigi wasn't fit to raise a child and never had been. (3.21)

Dane's accusation that Gigi was a bad mother not only reveals how bad things really were for him growing up, but doesn't exactly give Miracle the healthiest view of Gigi as her guardian. Maybe this is what Dr. DeAngelis means when he says that her family told her the truth about Sissy's "accident" through their actions—if things really were miraculous and hunky-dory, Dane and Gigi wouldn't be fighting about Miracle.

All I knew was that I didn't want to be there. Granddaddy Opal's name always came up in Gigi and Dane's fights, and so did mine, and they never sounded good together, my name and his—linked together when we didn't even know each other. Their angry words had always scared me, and I had the feeling now that Gigi planned to leave me there alone with him and go away. (3.33)

Granddaddy Opal and Gigi seem completely tone-deaf to the fact that Miracle isn't stupid and can hear every word they're saying, and as a result, they're making her feel unsafe and insecure in their house.

He grinned, and I noticed he had Dane's mouth—small, thin lips that hinted at shyness. He had his eyes, too—the shape and color were exactly the same—only Granddaddy Opal's eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled and Dane's eyes looked flat, blank. I couldn't remember Dane ever really smiling. (4.28)

Getting to know Granddaddy Opal better reveals to Miracle just how unhappy Dane really was. Her father may have looked like his father, but Opal's joy and enthusiasm for working with his hands and riding his bike makes her see the absence of those feelings in her dad's life.

Granddaddy Opal said he would get me a bicycle and then I could join him on his route. It wouldn't be a new bicycle, though. He said it would be an old beat-up one picked up at a yard sale. He was good at fixing bicycles. "You fix it up, paint it, and then it's yours," he said. "You take care of it, grease it up good every now and then, give it a name, and you ride it everywhere. You and that bicycle become best friends. It's a real special relationship." (6.7)

Granddaddy Opal's object lesson with the bicycle is one of the few moments in Miracle's childhood where she's treated like an adult and given responsibility. Having her own bike to take care of makes her feel important and helps her forge a connection with Granddaddy Opal, something she seriously lacks in her relationships with other family members.

I could feel contentment riding on that breeze, flowing from one to the other of us. It was the first time we had all sat together in the same place. It was the first time Gigi and Granddaddy Opal were quiet, but this didn't last; the winds of change kept shifting. (7.9)

It's interesting how once things settle down a little at Granddaddy Opal's, Miracle catches glimpses of what a normal life could look like for her. When she and her grandparents are quiet and together, she actually feels something approaching happiness. Unfortunately, though, it never lasts.

"I could tell Dane loved his Daddy," [Aunt Casey] said […] "Said he got his artistic talents from him, not from Gigi, like Gigi's always implying." (8.12-13)

Is it just us, or do Gigi and Granddaddy Opal have a kind of sick rivalry over their son? Gigi's obsessed with him being a writing prodigy, while Granddaddy Opal is the one who likely taught him what he knows about creativity and art. Our guess is that Opal really was the source of Dane's gifts—and Gigi knows it.

Gigi jumped back in, accusing Aunt Casey of knowing about the lessons and yelling at Granddaddy Opal about their arrangement, and Miss Emmaline had a few loud words to say to Uncle Toole so that everyone was talking at once and no one was hearing anything. (10.61)

Everyone talking and no one listening—that pretty much sums up life with the McCloys, doesn't it? No wonder everyone has so many problems communicating.

"I know it's… weird… you know, talking to a stranger and all. I mean, no one in the family's ever done that—talked about problems with a stranger, I don't think. We don't even talk to each other… really… so talking with a stranger… I know, it's weird." (19.2)

Aunt Casey's decision to pursue a degree in psychology is what ultimately leads her out of the demented fantasy world of her sister's family and makes her want to help Miracle. Realizing that the family doesn't even talk to each other is a big step toward accomplishing this.

"But Miracle—" Aunt Casey glanced at my shoulders—"this family's got too many secrets. We need help sorting it all out, the secrets, and…and problems." (19.3)

What was that we said earlier about secrets wrecking a family? Aunt Casey's realization that the family needs to communicate openly about the lies they've been telling each other demonstrates her desire to move them all past the secret world they've created and build a better one for Miracle.

"It was pure torture for Sissy. She and—and the father, well, they didn't get along at all. They were two selfish egos living in the same house. Both of them were spoiled babies. Both of them needed someone to take care of them. Gigi did. She smothered them with care." (26.58)

Ouch. Miracle may want to imagine her parents being young and in love and happy, but that obviously was not the case. With both of them forced into a marriage neither of them wanted any part of, it's no wonder contempt and anger grew so rapidly in this family.

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