The Myth Man

Elizabeth Swados, Author Viking Books $21.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-670-84202-5
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.)
Reviewed on: 11/28/1994
Release date: 12/01/1994
Genre: Fiction
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