Study Guide

Dancing on the Edge Versions of Reality

By Han Nolan

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Versions of Reality

I never liked hearing about how I came into this world anyway. It didn't seem natural, a live baby coming out of the body of a dead woman. Gigi said it was the greatest miracle ever to come down the pike. (1.1)

Let's just take a minute here and look at what happened to Sissy for what it is: a tragic decision to end her life brought about by the pressures of being forced to give up her dream. For the selfish reason of managing her own guilt, though, Gigi creates an alternate reality where Sissy's death is an accident that led to Miracle's, well, miraculous birth. Still, pretending the events were different doesn't make her version real.

I told Dane I loved it even though I had only read the last page. It was the first book I'd ever owned that didn't end with "And they lived happily ever after." (1.7)

It's interesting that Miracle has never read Dane's book, but is taken by the fact that it doesn't have a fairytale ending. In being impressed by this, do you think Miracle hints that she's not impressed by the fairytale-esque story she's been told about her own birth?

"But where does melting take you? What place?"

"Oh, some other time, some other place," Gigi said, her right hand fiddling with the crystal she had hanging around her neck. "Wish I could tell you more, but that's the way melting works. It's a vague kind of thing, one of those mysteries of life scientists and spiritualists and other ists are always trying to figure out." (3.29-30)

Can we be real here for just a minute and make it abundantly clear that people don't melt? Maybe we, as readers, are already aware of this, but Gigi's so unwilling to face the reality of Dane's disappearance that she has to craft an elaborate story to explain it.

I remembered what Granddaddy Opal had said about Mama. If your mama was dead when you were born, then you was never born. I changed it, right in my head I changed it, so that Granddaddy Opal said to me, "Welcome to my house, young lady, glad to have you stay." (4.13)

Gigi isn't the only one who has a habit of rewriting history—it's a skill she's actually passed on to Miracle as well. Here, Miracle takes her traumatic first meeting with Granddaddy Opal and changes the memory to make him softer and kinder upon her arrival.

I went to a special place, a safe, new place. There were green fields and wildflowers there, and fairies and gnomes and distant castles poking through swirls of pink and white clouds. A blanket of butterflies flew overhead to greet me. Then they drifted down and settled about my shoulders and kept me warm and safe. No words, no dirt balls, no teacher, no child—could reach me there, except Dane. I talked to Dane in my special new place. (5.17)

Miracle and her grandma have a lot in common. Just like Gigi, Miracle creates a fantasy world to enter whenever the world gets too overwhelming, particularly when she feels isolated and lonely at school—and in this world, Dane is present.

What if Dane melted so he could go back in time? It's possible, isn't it? If he did, then he was probably going back to the time just before Mama got hit by the ambulance. He's probably making sure she doesn't go to town to see the doctor that day. He's keeping her at home […] and thinking about how it's going to be—Dane, and her, and me, the new baby, living in a cottage by the sea. (9.48)

Miracle is so desperate to avoid facing the truth about Dane's disappearance that she goes from creating a fantasy world that he lives in to using Granddaddy Opal's black hole book as evidence that he's gone back in time. Her mind seems to be constantly at war between hiding her emotions in different versions of reality and facing the truth she knows to be real.

I lowered my head and closed my eyes. I could see a picture—a scene in my mind's eye, a familiar scene. It was the same one that flashed in my mind every time Gigi told me the story of my birth. Yes, I always hated when she told me that story. Something was always wrong with it. (27.7)

Miracle might have a lot of issues, but she's definitely not stupid—as Dr. DeAngelis points out, she's never entirely believed Gigi's story about how her mom died. The image of her mother walking out in front of an ambulance and somehow not seeing it just doesn't add up.

"Miracle, you're fourteen. You know the difference between fact and fantasy. You know what's real and what isn't." (28.18)

It might not seem like Miracle knows the difference between fantasy and reality, but she actually does. Gigi has just taught her the skills of denial extremely well, and part of Miracle's recovery is learning to recognize the truth and accept it rather than hide from it.

I awoke now with a sudden flash of understanding, a knowing that part of me had stopped believing in her the day Juleen Presque had called Gigi a phony. (28.52)

Remember the Emily Dickinson quote from the epigraph about how "the truth must dazzle gradually" (if not, swing by the "What's Up With the Epigraph?" section)? That's kind of what's going on here. Juleen does get through to Miracle that day when she brings her the books—Miracle's reaction of setting herself on fire is proof that the knowledge penetrated. Nonetheless, she can't entirely accept it all at once. Beliefs she's been taught to rely on her whole life can't simply disappear.

I thought I wanted her to rescue me, take me with her to Tennessee, I thought that's what I needed to tell her, but then I realized that wasn't it at all. I wanted her to release me. I wanted her to say it was all right to stop believing. I wanted to break the unspoken pact we had kept between us for so many years. (28.62)

Even after Dr. DeAngelis and Casey tell Miracle the truth about Gigi and her mother's death, Miracle's still not ready to totally accept it. In fact, the knowledge is so overwhelming that she actually wants to retreat back into the world of denial Gigi's created for her. It's only when Gigi kidnaps her and she gets her wish that Miracle realizes Gigi's world is no longer a place where she belongs.

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