Study Guide

Dancing on the Edge Religion

By Han Nolan

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I thought about all the questions I was going to ask Mama, the same questions I had asked her every night since I could remember. "Where are you, Mama?" I always began, lying in my bed and staring up into the darkness, feeling her silence. "Where is the spirit world? Is it just like heaven?" (1.14)

Death is confusing enough for a kid to understand without introducing Gigi's thoughts about the spirit world into the mix. It's obvious that Miracle has a lot of questions about her mother, mostly because of the half-truths she can sense from her family about Sissy's death. The disturbing part, though, is that her questions about the spirit world only scratch the surface of the true story.

Gigi always said four was a sacred and holy number. She said all numbers are important because they contain all things in the natural and spiritual world, but I didn't like the number four because four and a half months after Mama married Dane, she got run over by an ambulance speeding to the scene of an accident. (1.8)

Here's a thought for you: Gigi kind of worships colors and numbers. Each one has special significances and certain rules for interacting with them. Sissy's death, however, shows that their association in the spirit world doesn't necessarily match up with how they can play out in the real world. Apparently, Gigi herself isn't even aware of these contradictions.

Gigi didn't like me asking a lot of questions. She said my questions upset the karmic balance, and I knew this was so, because even though I didn't know what karmic balance meant, I could tell how upset my questions made her. (1.23)

Gigi's superstitious religious views are damaging to Miracle in a lot of ways, but one of the worst is that they take away Miracle's ability to ask questions. Out of fear that people will discover she's a fake, questions are something Gigi thinks are best avoided.

Gigi and I stayed on our knees swaying for a long time. I don't know when Aunt Casey and Uncle Toole left because I had to concentrate on being just like Gigi. I kept waiting for Dane to reappear because it seemed to me that's why we stayed down there on the floor with our arms crossed over our chests moaning to the spirits. (2.27)

Whoa—this is a super creepy image, no? It's almost like Gigi is trying to conjure Dane up from the pile of clothes on the floor, or from wherever it is that people go when they melt. Of course, the whole thing about Dane melting is bogus to begin with, so our best guess is that Gigi's using this little ritual as a chance to perform for Aunt Casey and Uncle Toole.

"If you want to know something, you don't go look it up in a book. You put your question out there, out into the universe, and then you wait, and sure enough the information comes to you." (4.16)

Not only does Gigi discourage Miracle from asking questions, she is now also telling her that books are a bad source of information. She takes away both Miracle's power to ask questions and to seek information. Fittingly, then, it's ultimately a book—the Emily Dickinson poetry collection—that sets Miracle's mind free. Ha. How do you like them apples, Gigi?

I went to church a couple of times, back when Gigi listened to what other people told her, and they told her I needed religion. We stopped going, though, because Gigi said there was more to it than the preacher was letting on. She said it was like the way the government doesn't admit that there are aliens from other planets roaming the earth. "That preacher's hiding too much up his puffy sleeves is what I think," she said. "He's got cards he ain't showing." (4.66)

More than likely, Gigi heard something at the church service that made her feel a little uncomfortable. Perhaps the preacher spoke out against the occult or made a statement that contradicted something she wanted Miracle to believe. Thus, this scene isn't as much about what the preacher is or isn't sharing with people, as it is Gigi's fear that conventional religion will disrupt Miracle's image of her—and her own fantasy world.

Then, in a loud quivering voice she said, "The winds of change are blowing." Her arms swayed above her. "The stars are realigning. You must be ready. Great things are about to happen to us all!" (7.3)

Why does this description make us think Gigi would make a fantastic televangelist? Perhaps now that the whole situation with Miracle is resolved, she can found her very own television network for all things occult. Then again, we kind of hope she's gone ahead and given up her alleged magic altogether.

I imagined myself melting into the floor and then deeper, into the earth, deeper still, below the earth, beyond the earth. Then where? Where did Dane go then? There's where I always got stuck. I could never imagine what lay beyond the earth. All I knew was Gigi's world of spirits and spirit guides, and they were all people who had died and were caught in the ether world. But Dane wasn't dead, so he wasn't with the spirits. What else lay beyond the earth? (9.2)

Gigi's yarn about Dane melting is just as dangerous as her tales about Sissy being in the spirit world, if not more. Because Dane is technically not dead (that we know of), he doesn't apply to the spirit world theory, which only adds more confusion to Miracle's comprehension of all this. Really, Gigi's weird theories break down pretty easily in the absence of any coherent rules or evidence.

Aunt Casey, straining under the weight of his arms flung around her, pointed toward the sky. "Can't you see we got bigger problems than you to worry about right now?" she said. "Now, pull yourself together and help Opal out. I swear, of all the times to have some kind of conversion experience." (11.6)

The idea of Uncle Toole having a conversion experience is totally laughable. We want to believe that staring death in the face in the form of the tornado would change his ways, but it's almost like we intuitively know that Toole's not a guy capable of serious self-reflection. Sure enough, he returns to his lackadaisical ways—and his girlfriend—once things get back to normal.

Mr. Eugene Wadell came over with our drinks and handed them to us. "I think if we could get together in a circle and focus on Mr. McCloy's heart and circulatory system—I mean, if we could just visualize healing—"

"Prayer, you mean," said Miss Emmaline.

"Uh—" Mr. Wadell opened his can of Sprite and took a sip. (12.20-23)

There's nothing like a family crisis to bring a clash in religious beliefs to the forefront. In this case, it's pretty clear that Emmaline thinks all the Other Realms stuff is a bunch of hooey.

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