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The Myth Man

The Myth Man

by Elizabeth Swados

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Swados (Leah and Lazar) brings mythical elements to bear in this ambitious novel, which, like its Icarus figure, a genius playwright, finally careens out of control. Narrator Rikki Nelson, born in the '60s (and named after the teen idol who later fell from the sky), introduces herself at age nine. Abused by clients of her prostitute mother and pushed into commercial acting jobs by her down-and-out father, she has given up speaking and auditions for roles that require only miming. She wins a part in The Myth Man, the latest improvisational masterpiece by avant-garde Manhattanite Sasha Volodny, who's delighted with her mysterious muteness. Also taken with Rikki is Sasha's elder brother and benefactor, Charles, an easygoing opposite to his power-hungry sibling. The story of these strong characters, which is shaped in three acts, grows ever more erratic. The credible first third of the novel-about Sasha, his play, Charles and Rikki's sudden reclaiming of speech-is followed by the less persuasive middle third, in which Sasha's outrageous troupe goes on the road and Rikki's mother tries to break Rikki's bond with the brothers. Finally, Rikki and company travel through the Amazon rain forest, where Sasha seeks essential truths through mental and physical hardship. Swados presents this harrowing voyage of discovery, which seems indebted to both Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Werner Herzog's Aguirre: The Wrath of God, with a heavy hand, finally sinking the narrative, despite its winning fusion of ancient and modern archetypes and its kaleidoscopic settings. (Dec.)
Library Journal
Swados, herself a veteran of the New York theater, evokes the milieu of experimental theater in the 1960s and 1970s in this beautifully crafted novel. Her protagonists, the brothers Sasha and Charles, are the yin and yang of a New York troupe whose eccentric production, The Myth Man, wins rave reviews. The story of their heady success is narrated by Rikki, a precocious little girl whose alcoholic father left her with Sasha at the age of seven. Rikki views the moody, brilliant, dictatorial Sasha as a father figure and the whimsically sweet, humane Charles as a surrogate mother. As the story unfolds, Sasha's genius leads him deeper into a theater of cruelty in which his actors are more victims than performers. Swados's portrait of Sasha's megalomania and his descent into madness is chillingly accurate. The verisimilitude of her depiction of the theater world with its cast of weird, engaging, talented, and self-destructive performers could only be wrought by an insider. This wonderful novel will make you laugh and cry and terrify you at the same time. Recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 8/94.]-Andrea Caron Kempf, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, Kan.
Donna Seaman
An award-winning composer and director as well as author of the cathartic family memoir "The Four of Us" (1991), Swados has written an enrapturing and provocative tale of artistic fervor, blind ambition, epic selfishness, and survival. The time is the late 1960s, and beautiful little Rikki Nelson, the abused and mute daughter of a whore, has, in effect, been sold to the acclaimed avant-garde director Sasha Volotny. The personification of the consequence of placing art above all else, Sasha demands extreme forms of self-sacrifice from his disciples, even Rikki, and is locked in a profound love-hate battle with his far more compassionate brother, Charles. Formerly a celebrated drag queen (and a delightful character), Charles becomes, as he describes it, Rikki's mother of invention, and the only person she can trust. As Rikki matures and regains her ability to speak, Sasha's inspired yet maniacal quest for the origin of myths and the true meaning of theater places his followers in increasingly riskier situations. As the troupe journeys from New York to Paris to the malevolent Amazonian jungle, Swados examines the fine line between leadership and exploitation, art and audacity, love and manipulation. Swados' original, dramatic, humorous, and mind-expanding novel is as direct and involving as dance, and as haunting as music.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.26(w) x 9.28(h) x 1.10(d)

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