Sheila Williams   Dancing on the Edge of the Roof  
Sheila Williams  
Read an Interview with Sheila Williams

Read an Excerpt from Dancing on the Edge of the Roof


All of us have eaten in diners. But only some of us have found that Special One, the tried and true kitchen that serves comfort food just the way we like it. Whether it is a fancy plate of poached eggs on cornbread topped with a dab of chipotle hollandaise sauce, or plain old scrambled eggs and bacon, nothing quite compares to the warm smell of familiarity. It is the perfect setting for people-watching, and sometimes I find myself looking from booth to booth wondering 'Who are all these people? What are they talking about? Where are they from?' Something draws us together, in this room of vinyl seats and greasy air, and for a few moments we share a common space in our very separate lives.

Dancing on the Edge of the Roof is a novel that gives us a glimpse into one of these lives. The life of Juanita Louis. She has cleaned up other people's shit (literally, as a nurse's aide), supported a cigarette and wine habit (including those of her lazy, grown-children), and suffered through several abusive relationships. However, despite the disproportionate dose of bitterness in Junaita's life, you would never describe her outlook as such.

The routine of her existence is disrupted one day when, while sorting through the leftover belongings of a deceased patient, Juanita discovers a bag of romance novels in the closet. Yes, the cheesy, idealized paperbacks with brightly colored covers that feature really buff men and distressed damsels. But inspiration is inspiration, no matter what the source…and Juanita takes the opportunity to improve her reading skills and think in a dramatic way. She absorbs them quickly, living vicariously through the characters and traveling to places she never dreamed of, while building her vocabulary and interest in writing. Suddenly Juanita finds the motivation and meaning to achieve "a life worth writing home about."

She packs her bags. She says goodbye. She gets on a bus. She ends up in Paper Moon, Montana. The story takes off from here with the introduction of new people, like a truck driver named Peaches, a Lakota Indian chef who prepares French cuisine, and an eccentric octogenarian who insists her cats are re-incarnations of her late husbands. Juanita's ideas finally have the chance to evolve, including her perspective on the value of life and conquering life-long fears. Interestingly, the setting for Juanita's new self-discovery doesn't take place in an exotic country far away, but at none other than the Paper Moon Diner.

Not every book you read is a gourmet meal filled with overly complex characters, mind-boggling plot twists, and big fancy words. Sometimes a story can just be a satisfying, weekend read that makes you feel good when you're done. Sheila Williams has served up a nice dish with this novel, a real comfy eggs-and-bacon-style peek into someone else's life. Even the awkward issues that the story addresses are kept palatable with the use of humor. The simple, light-hearted use of dialogue and description leaves you with a pleasant taste in your mouth.

Please consider this the appetizer. For more of the main course, read an excerpt here from the novel, Dancing on the Edge of the Roof. But save room for dessert, and join me in a conversation with Sheila Williams about her debut novel.

—Mo Wu

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  Photo credit: Ann Segal

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