DeLeeuw debuts with a strange tale seething with disturbing psychological overtones.
We first meet Luke through his chance encounter with Daniel on a playground near the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At first the boys seem compatible in every way. They’re both imaginative 6-year-olds, comfortable playing games in which dinosaurs come to eat them and they save themselves by shooting the creatures with water guns. At her son’s insistence, Luke’s mother, Claire, agrees to let Daniel visit them in their posh New York apartment. Just as readers begin to wonder why Daniel’s parents never seem to be around and he never seems to have his own home to go to, it becomes clear that Daniel is an imaginary friend who conveniently showed up shortly after the divorce of Luke’s parents. He’s also the narrator of the novel. Eventually Daniel winds up occupying the no-man’s land between doppelgänger and Imp of the Perverse, “persuading” Luke to do heinous things like killing the family dog. It’s clear that Claire has her own problems when she has a breakdown and threatens to cut herself with shards of glass. After Claire is hospitalized, Luke (and Daniel) go to live with Luke’s father and his “new” family, which includes a stepsister Daniel finds thrillingly desirable. As Luke grows up, he cannot shake off the dire influence of Daniel, who becomes increasingly manipulative, forbidding and malevolent. When Luke goes to college, Daniel makes sure he succumbs to the lure of Richard, a charismatic but evil upperclassman who, to put it charitably, does not have Luke’s best interests at heart and soon has him snorting coke. Ultimately, Daniel gains more and more control over Luke, finally committing murder.
Once readers “get it,” the narrative conceit becomes less interesting—but Hitchcock would have loved the premise.