Ladies of the Rachmaninoff Eyes

McNally Editions. Jan. 2024. 176p. ISBN 9781946022882. pap. $18. F
Long out of print, Van Dyke’s irresistible 1965 debut novel revolves around the “violent kinship” between Etta Klein and her former housemaid and longtime housemate Harriet, aging widows tippling rum, laughing, crying, bickering, and bantering in some “diabolical jest” poised between love and hate. Long haunted by the suicide of her bachelor son, Etta contracts the services of one Maurice LeFleur, a seedy charlatan billing himself as a “Warlock, Psychic Reader and Spiritualistic Consultant,” who moves into their house to pick up emanations and case the joint. All of this is related with a charming mix of ingenuousness and droll wit by Harriet’s young nephew, privy to the confidences of the whole eccentric family even as he dodges the emphatic advances of their lubricious maid. The farce comes to a hilarious and heartrending climax on the night of the séance, raising unexpected spirits that point the way to a poignant denouement.
VERDICT With brilliant comic writing and dialogue evocative of Capote, McCullers, and Waugh, Van Dyke’s delightfully unproblematized story of a Black queer youth’s coming-of-age feels decades ahead of its time.
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