Flamboyant

Elizabeth Swados, Author Picador USA $22 (256p) ISBN 978-0-312-19547-2
Tapping into a pool of now bromidic tales--Sleeping Beauty, Oliver Twist, Dangerous Minds--playwright and novelist Swados (The Myth Man) spends much of this threadbare novel battling against the cliches that attend a hackneyed plot. Flamboyant, a homeless, 15-year-old prostitute--vulnerable but guarded by her street smarts and acerbic charm--encounters Chana, a naive, frumpy, Orthodox Jewish schoolteacher who has recently been assigned to the Harvey Milk School in downtown Manhattan. The pair becomes a predictable parody: sassy black teen and a hopeless white square (she muses: ""The people, mostly men, dressed so differently from what I knew in Brooklyn. So many mustaches! Muscles too!""). While Chana, whose faith and fiance forbid her to consort with lowlife, begins to question what she sees as the hypocrisy of Orthodox Jewish law, Flamboyant finds that her savvy cynicism is no substitute for genuine affection. Narrated by these two distinct voices, the novel toys with gimmicky tropes (e.g., diary entries) and performative gestures (e.g., Flamboyant's dramatic efforts to stage her identity crisis in phrases like ""I, Flamboyant, did this and you, Chana, did that""). Despite Swados's good intentions, the book never overcomes its contrived set-up. To paraphrase Chana's rabbi, the novel feels like an unnecessarily long and bumpy trip down a well-trodden path. Editor, George Witte; agent, Amanda Urban; author tour. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/31/1998
Release date: 09/01/1998
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-312-20408-2
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