A lost midcentury classic—the farcical misadventures of a queer Black teen sharing a house with two adoptive mothers, a lascivious cook, and a reticent ghost.

In a small Michigan town, in the late 1950s, the widow Etta Klein—wealthy and Jewish—has for more than thirty years relied for aid, comfort, and companionship on her Black housekeeper Harriet Gibbs. Between “Aunt Harry” and Etta, a relationship has developed that is closer than a friendship, yet not quite a marriage. They are inseparable, at once absurdly unequal and defined by a comic codependence.

Forever mourning the early death of her favorite son, Sargent, Etta has all but adopted Aunt Harry’s nephew, the precocious, gay seventeen-year-old Oliver, who has been raised by both women. Oliver is facing down his departure to college—and fending off the advances of Etta’s cook, Nella Mae—when the household is disrupted by the arrival of a self-proclaimed “warlock,” one Maurice LeFleur, who has convinced Etta and Harry that he might be able to contact Sargent in the afterlife . . .

Ladies of the Rachmaninoff Eyes was the debut of the extraordinary Henry Van Dyke, whose witty and outrageous novels look back to the sparkling, elaborate comedies of Ronald Firbank and forward to postmodern burlesques like Fran Ross’s Oreo. There is nothing else quite like them in American fiction.

About the author(s)

Henry Van Dyke (1928–2011) was born in Allegan, Michigan, and grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, where his parents were professors at Alabama State College. He served in the Army in occupied Germany, playing flute in the 427th Marching Band. There he abandoned his early ambition to become a concert pianist and began to write. In 1958, after attending the University of Michigan on the G.I. Bill and living in Ann Arbor, he moved to New York, where he spent the rest of his life. Henry taught creative writing part-time at Kent State University from 1969 until his retirement in 1993, and was the author of four novels, including Blood of Strawberries, a sequel to Ladies of the Rachmaninoff Eyes.

Erik Wood is an architect and urban designer whose clients have included the Hudson River Park Conservancy, the Port of San Diego, and the State of Qatar. He is Henry Van Dyke's nephew and literary executor.


"With brilliant comic writing and dialogue evocative of Capote, McCullers, and Waugh, Van Dyke’s delightfully unproblematized story of a Black queer youth’s coming-of-age feels decades ahead of its time."

David Wight

“His debt to Truman Capote, Carson McCullers, Tennessee Williams and other writers of the [light-decadent] style is perfectly obvious, yet the voice here is his own—amused, intelligent, slightly eccentric . . . A talented writer and a brave one.”

Eliot Fremont-Smith

“A charming and incisive, witty and entertaining book . . . Readers whose palates are not tolerant of the hardtack of mournful novels by college professors will welcome the taste of Mr. Van Dyke’s digestible and delicious confection . . . He has loads of talent.” 

James Purdy

“This captivating novel is constructed like a fantastic masque . . . scenes in the novel are ribald and hilarious, but the characters can also be pitiful or tragic . . . To give away the plot would be unfair to this strange and wonderful story. Enough to say that the catalyst is a self-­termed warlock who has arrived to hold a séance. A first novel by a fine new original talent.”

Jessie Kitching