CUSTOMS by Lisa Zeidner
Kirkus Star


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An exuberant first novel--imperfect, but lots of fun and enormously promising. Jennifer Spell is 23, single, doing back-up vocals and piano for commercials in New York, when she meets Mildred Howell in a luncheonette in Grand Central Station. Nearing 80, easily mistaken for a bag lady, the sibylline Mildred imparts to Jennifer the unlikely story of Tourisme, a French Alpine town settled in 1880 by iconoclastic Irish immigrants (with an eye toward--naturally--tourism). Some of wacky Tourisme's wacky children include Casey, Katey, Kitsia, Frog, Gato, and others too confusingly cute-named to list; and events bring most of them finally to a career of art forgery and thieving. Even more unlikely: this cartoony, snowstorm-in-a-paperweight plot turns out to have direct lines to Jennifer's own family--as well as to Mildred (who is a millionaire from all of Tourisme's stolen bounty stored over the years in her Greenwich Village basement apartment). What's going on here, you ask? Well, Zeidner is clearly too intelligent and comic a writer to be satisfied with the limp conventions of a young-woman's-coming-of-age novel. So she has turned hers into a hip fairy tale--with fable spinning brightly through the identity crises. Admittedly, sometimes these fable elements merely create muddle; and the elfin, fey, kaleidoscope quality can sometimes seem a bit too much. But the fairy-tale turns are usually shrewd (all the Tourisme women end up sleeping with men who turn out to be either father or brother--a dandy bit of Electra-vaudeville). Moreover, Zeidner's energy is zippy, her prose is fine, and she even manages some touching moments--Jennifer's mother's suicide, Mildred's death--amid the fancy footwork. Far from completely successful, then--but it's diverting, jaunty indication of Zeidner's bright prospects as a novelist. . . once she decides to spin two or three plates in the air instead of thirty.

Pub Date: June 4th, 1981
Publisher: Knopf