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by Kathryn Bertine
Little, Brown & Company, November 2003
320 pages
ISBN: 0316099015

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In this excellent, entertaining and well-written memoir, Kathryn Bertine recounts her career as a figure skater, what it did to her, how she reconciled her passion for the sport with the things she did to keep skating. She's awfully funny about a lot of things; as the book continues, she slowly and subtly gets more serious; appropriate because as the book goes on, Bertine talks more about the self-destructive nature of her anorexia, and less about the goofiness of professional (well, hmm) figure skating. Not everyone who's a good skater gets the ritzy tours, the Champions on Ice, the Stars on Ice. Some of them never make the show and are in the minors their entire careers (she says, mixing sports metaphors rather painfully.)

Bertine grew up in suburban, wealthy, white, smug Bronxville, New York and while she completely understands the privilege of that existence, she never fit in and sees the problems that such a town has. Athletic, interesting in nothing normal (normal being make-up and clothes and boys), and a "tomboy", Bertine discovered skating at the nearby Yonkers Figure Skating Club and it became her home, her retreat, her life. Skating was not her sole focus. She had the smarts to know she had to attend college, and found a way to skate there (in spite of a very hockey-oriented athletic program), knowing that while she always wanted to skate, there might be more to life. 

She was all set to join the Ice Capades after college (they even had held a spot for her) and as she was preparing to leave to join this professional company ,the only real ice show worth her talents, she learned that they'd filed for bankruptcy. Desperate to skate, Kathryn joined one awful dumb show, "Holiday on Ice", and didn't fit in there either, despite her talent. She ended up touring South America with the even worse "Hollywood on Ice" - think "the Flintstones" on skates, fishnets and showgirl outfits.

I'm sure I'm not the only person who likes to learn about the things that go on "behind the scenes" and I'm a passionate fan of figure skating. So reading Bertine's descriptions of everything from practices at the local rink (complete with pigeons, since the roof wasn't closed) to skating on plastic ice (plastic? yuck) was informative and interesting to me. In a happy confluence of events, right before reading All the Sundays Yet to Come, I'd read a new mystery about skating and the two books confirm much of the nuttiness of what I've always suspected about skating. I know it's not all princesses in sequins (thank the heavens) but the nit-picking, the awful behavior on the part of some skaters and some employers, and above all, the total lack of concern or even awareness as Kathryn started to starve herself to ensure she'd make the right weight for the ice show, well that's hard to take.

One pretty amazing thing about this book is how quietly and neatly Bertine takes you from outrageously funny, and great attitudes about beaded costumes and stupid attitudes to the seriousness, and horrors of an eating disorder. It's appalling to watch her on the path to self-destruction; it's pretty astounding to read her matter-of-fact tone about how obsessive she was.

Kathryn Bertine has a lot of smarts and she managed to find her way out of the hell of anorexia, to the point that she is still a strong and successful athlete today. That can't have been easy. I assume that her traveling anywhere to skate might have been influenced somewhat by a need to get as far away from her mother as she could (shudder), and from a family that was apparently quite comfortable with pretending all was well (even when her older brother's temper "tantrums" and violence turned out to be manic-depressive illness). While she credits her father and some really good people, like her friend Felicia, with support throughout her life, she's really responsible for her successes. 

Reviewed by Andi Shechter, October 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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