Crowley (Aegypt, 1987, etc.) struggles to recapture the smooth blending of straight narrative and speculative hermeticism that gave his best work, Little, Big (1981), the startling quality of metaphysical realism. It eludes him, unfortunately, here. Very much a book of levels, as the title's two primal forces indicate, this is the story of a writer named Pierce Moffett, who grew up with his mother and uncle and cousins in rural Kentucky (far removed from his homosexual father back in New York City). Pierce eventually turns into an upstate New York loner, an isolato equipped with paranormal gifts of magic and wisdom that set him more firmly in tune with the music of the spheres than with the lives of his neighbors. The book is a chronicle of Pierce's slow steps into this world (a fuller sex life, learning to drive) but also a charting of the introduction he unwittingly provides to others of a reality off, as it were, to one side of daily conscious life. Crowley adds historical focus in chapters about the struggles of two 16th-century psychic pioneers, the Italian metaphysician Giordano Bruno and the English mage John Dee. These historical sections, though graceful (Crowley is a deliciously elegant writer, sentence by sentence), are heavy dumplings; and though Crowley ultimately and quite strikingly turnbuckles the two levels into one at the end, it feels a lot less than natural and inevitable. The split-vision pretty much weighs down the spring of Pierce's pilgrim's progress into love and eroticism (women, but also a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old boy who is his illegitimate son, a pure Eros figure). In the end, the secret knowledge so sought after here comes to seem a burden the reader would rather shrug off than embrace. Disappointing.
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