Shange's is a rich but limited talent--warmly comic or gorgeously evocative one moment, shrilly didactic or swoonily overblown the next. And this poetic first novel--vignettes from the lives of three Charleston-born sisters--reflects those strengths and weaknesses, though it offers no sequences to rival the best monologues in for colored girls. . . . Indigo, Cypress, and Sassafrass grow up with a proud, articulate weaver for a Mama--so, though Mama would like solid, conventional lives for her girls, the sisters are more artistically, dreamily inclined. Indigo, the youngest, appears only in the very beginning (the novel's most alluring section) and very end: though menstruating, she's reluctant to give up her beloved, fantasy-friend dolls; eventually, however, Indigo's creativity is switched over to the violin, while her caring impulse will lead her to become a nurse. Meanwhile, older sister Cypress is determined to be a dancer despite her big behind; she winds up in N.Y.'s Azure Bosom (a woman's dance collective at the Bowery's Ovary Studio), which leads to lesbian heartbreak . . . before true-love Leroy comes along, together with a raised political consciousness. And Sassafrass, at first a weaver, is heavily into ""black creative innovation"" (with visionary visits from Billie Holiday and other dead greats)--but she must contend along the way with her beloved sax-man Mitch's drug addiction, with black male-chauvinism (""muthafuckahs, don't you ever sit in my house and ask me to celebrate my inherited right to be raped""). Admittedly, except for Indigo's framing appearances (and recurring letters from Mama), there's little attempt at novelistic shaping here: Shange happily throws in recipes (for food and living), poems, and dreams along with the sisters' fragmented experiences in a variety of bohemian milieux. And her passionate commitment to black/feminist creativity often leads to earnest lyricism when a touch of satire seems more appropriate. But readers willing to settle for chunks of gritty verbal music and occasional flights of imagery or comedy will not be disappointed; and, for those interested in the sociology of black men and women in the arts, there are a number of must-read pages here.