Levine debuts with a dark literary-fiction re-imagining of the macabre tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde.
Dr. Jekyll’s an "alienist," precursor of the psychiatrist, but it’s Hyde who seizes control and rips the narrative open. Jekyll’s studied in Paris recently, supposedly treating a man with multiple personalities, but after returning from France, Jekyll has befuddled those who know him best with his machinations—Utterson, his attorney, Lanyon, a fellow physician, and Poole, his butler. It seems he’s brought chemicals that provoke an exchange of one personality for another, and secretly, Jekyll’s dosing himself. Levine’s rendering of bustling Victorian London, misty-cold winters and summers "filled with gauzy lemony light," provides the stage for Hyde’s midnight, fog-shrouded ramblings from tavern to brothel. Levine’s tale is dense, layered, sometimes obscure, its twisted origins resting with Jekyll’s dead father, who inflicted upon the boy perverse sexual manipulations and other cruelties. With the potion, the buried perversions flower as Hyde plunges into London’s debauched quarters, driven by Jekyll’s sexual deviations. Hyde beds Jeannie, 14-year-old street girl, and then installs her at a derelict mansion he’s leased, only to recognize he’s acting out Jekyll’s impotence in consummating a sexual relationship with married Georgiana, a lost love. Levine’s characters are fully realized, but many are abandoned in narrative cul-de-sacs: a housekeeper, a Tarot reader, a maid who has been raped. Levine’s masterful in his surrealistic observations of Hyde subsuming Jekyll. Hyde is all unfettered compulsion yet selfishly connected to his better nature because "[h]e was my hideout, my sanctuary." The fracture comes with Hyde’s murder of Jekyll’s acquaintance, Sir Danvers X. Carew, MP, part of the London Committee for the Suppression of Traffic in Young English Girls, after which Hyde-Jekyll retreat to an abandoned surgery with a dwindling supply of the chemical catalyst.
Cleverly imagined and sophisticated in execution, this book may appeal to those who like magical realism and vampire stories, but the latter should know that the book is more intellectual than thriller.