Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

Make-Believe Ballrooms

by Peter Smith

“Wrenchingly funny . . . it treads darkly humorous turf that’s worthy of the author’s sinewy prose.” –The New York Times Book Review

  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 304
  • Publication Date May 31, 1990
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8711-3367-0
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $9.95

About The Book

Dark days for Hal Andrews, New York artist and scion of an eccentric New England family. His cat has just died in a plunge from his apartment window. His brother Beck, manic-depressive and hopelessly nostalgic, is about to marry Lisa Lyman, heiress to the Family Wipes fortune and certifiably the world’s most abominable girl. Their sister Fishie, an Olympic swimming champion who uses her television appearances to berate Hal, has recently shaved her head bald. And their father is withholding Hal’s inheritance until he becomes more responsible, or at least until he’s sixty-five. Hal’s artwork clutters the floors of his girlfriend’s apartment and does about as much for his putative gallery. Hoping for a genius grant and settling for a decrepit dog and a derisive girlfriend, Hal’s optimism begins to wane as he descends “into a moody twilit world of obscure urban horror.”

Therefore, when a wrong number from out of town walks into his life, the situation is grim. Mary-Ann Beavers and her hostile brother arrive in New York via Greyhound, in search of celebrities and success, both rare commodities back home in Patent, Texas. She snaps her chewing gum and writes wretched poetry; her brother has bad teeth and a temper to match. While Mary-Ann stalks Liza Minnelli in the supermarket and treasures the autograph of Dustin Hoffman’s agent’s sister, a darkness that lasts for days falls over Hal’s new but awful apartment. There is light, however, at the end of the tunnel, and Hal, in spite of himself, will bask in it. Make-Believe Ballrooms captures the true contemporary dilemma in this tale of Hal’s decline and rehabilitation in much-too-postmodern New York.

Tags Literary


“Wrenchingly funny . . . it treads darkly humorous turf that’s worthy of the author’s sinewy prose.” –The New York Times Book Review

“At the top of his form, Smith puts the reader in mind of a younger, hipper Robert Benchley–high praise indeed. His style, like Benchley’s, could be described as a kind of contained lunacy.” –Chicago Tribune

“The funniest book set in New York since The Bonfire of the Vanities, and within its own social realms just as detailed and accurate and spontaneous. Peter J. Smith, who has the funniest temperament of any writer of his generation, achieves a rudely elegant comic high and sustains it effortlessly. What gives the humor its kick and tension–and what makes the book so likeable–is the disparity between the genteel precision of the prose and its anarchic spirit. Though there’s something laugh-out-loud funny in just about every paragraph, the book expands into something more than just a flawlessly executed comedy of irritation. There are set pieces here worthy of S. J. Perelman and Joseph Heller and J. D. Salinger at their best.” –Bret Easton Ellis

“Sharp and refreshing. . . . A satirical jab at the mores and values of upper-middle-class American families . . . stretching the limit of relationships to their dark, comic edge.” –Toronto Globe and Mail

“Do we really need another book of the hippy-zippy sarcastic genre that’s big on humor, big on social commentary and light on plot and characterization? Probably so, especially if the tome in question contains as many absurd, madcap and amusing moments as Peter J. Smith’s Make-Believe Ballrooms.” –Atlanta Journal and Constitution

Make-Believe Ballrooms manages to be wildly funny, insightful, and true all at the same time. Peter Smith writes with great warmth and humor, and with Hal Andrews he has created a Benjamin Braddock [The Graduate] for the 1980s.” –Ann Hood, author of Somewhere off the Coast of Maine and Waiting to Vanish

Make-Believe Ballrooms is a startling look at a world that is as familiar as home and just as unsettling to visit. Peter Smith metes out hilarity and desperation in equal, entirely satisfying, portions.” –Meg Wolitzer, author of This Is Your Life