A Friend of Mr. Njinsky

Written by Caro Soles
Review by Ellen Keith

Author Caro Soles notes in the foreword that this is not the story of famed Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky but of his friend, Morgan Vanheusen. Vanheusen meets Nijinsky in New York in 1916 when he helps the great, but paranoid, dancer leave Vanheusen’s mother’s charity event after performing. Nijinsky, having broken with Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, is convinced the impresario is out for revenge. A loose floorboard where he dances is surely no accident but Diaghilev’s attempt to injure and embarrass him.

Removing Nijinsky from the party does Morgan no favors with his angry family but earns him Nijinsky’s gratitude and the invitation to call him Jinks, an incongruous nickname. And truth be told, except for the financial support, Morgan doesn’t mind being on the outs with his family. He would rather race cars than go into the family business, which is something vaguely defined as financial.

The problem with this being Morgan’s story is that Morgan isn’t that interesting. He pines after his sister’s friend Muriel, who coolly ignores him, is a patron of a fashionable brothel, but is unexpectedly aroused by a female impersonator he meets in the company of Jinks, whose own homosexuality is only hinted at. This collection of behaviors isn’t enough to make a compelling character. Nijinsky’s broken English combined with his paranoia makes him more pitiable than virile.

A mystery is thrown in for good measure. A young female dancer dies in Nijinsky’s arms mid-dance after drinking from Nijinsky’s lucky flask. This begs the question: was what killed her meant for Nijinsky? The denouement to this mystery becomes all about Morgan when his sister Gloria is poised to be the next victim: will he rush to save his sister or make the big race? What do you think?