Book Review: Leah Dieterich’s “Vanishing Twins”
BY: A.M. Larks
I have begun this review eight times now. I know the topics I want to cover, the words I want to say, but the disjointed and interrelated concepts resist a cohesive narrative. The cause, I suspect, is not my lack of writing skills but the high quality of Leah Dieterich’s in her memoir, Vanishing Twins.
“The music and the choreography also have equal importance and yet, somehow, they do not compete with each other for the audience’s attention.” While Dieterich is speaking about the ballet, Agon, by George Balanchine, her words could easily be describing her own work with minor substitutions—“text” for “music” and “typography” for “choreography.” The text and the typography have equal importance, yet somehow they do not compete for the reader’s attention. Dietrich continues about Agon, “There is no backdrop, no sets, no props, just four men and eight women in practice clothes.” Likewise, her work comprises single paragraphs, some grouped and some separate, all laid bare on paper. “First there is a dance for the four men, then for the eight women, then for all twelve dancers. Within the three main sections are smaller breakdowns, a pas de deux, a solo or tow, but there is never a corps de ballet. No group of dancers who merge their bodies into one and become set dressing. The dancers own their bodies, even when they are together, they are individuals.” There is never a body, but the ballet exists by completely integrating its individual parts.
This is why I could not find a single idea from which to begin. Dieterich has designed her narrative to resist containment. The underpinning of this work is Dieterich’s longing and search for her lost twin, a twin soul. “The term vanishing twin was coined in 1980, the year I was born. The fact that it’s called vanishing twin and not vanished twin seems to indicate that the disappearance is perpetual, not completed, possibly not completable.” It would be reductive to focus on only that component because there are many recurring threads.
Indeed, this is why Dieterich opens with an overture possessing a technical purpose (in music) to introduce the audience to the themes and ideas that will be running throughout the full performance. The word “overture” comes from the French word ouverture, meaning “to open,” and in it Dieterich introduces the reader to not only the themes (lost twins, other selves, ballet, concepts of femininity, concepts of monogamy, and sex to name a few), but also the structure. Nothing is more of an ouverture than a single floating paragraph on the first page.
“During my ballerina years, I danced mainly in the corps de ballet. This is the term of the group of dancers who are not soloists. The literal translation is the body of the ballet, and as such, all the dancers in the corps move together, like synchronized swimmers. They are one body. But not even a body. They are a backdrop for the principal dancers. Just scenery.”
This memoir strives for each piece to maintain its individuality and not be folded into the scenery. Down to the sentence level, Dieterich’s words maintain their separate identities, their singular ideas, and yet still maintain their role in the larger narrative. Live performances must be directly experienced to be fully appreciated; similarly, Dieterich’s work must be read in order to fully comprehend what she has achieved.
A.M. Larks writes fiction and nonfiction. She has performed her stories at Lit Up at Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette, California. She contributes reviews and interviews to and is a reader for The Coachella Review. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, a Juris Doctorate, and is currently pursuing her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from the University of California–Riverside Palm Desert’s low-residency program. She lives in Northern California.