PASSIVE INTRUDER by Michael Upchurch


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 The latest by the author of Air (1986) and The Flame Forest (1989) can't decide how much it wants to conform to the conventions of esoteric ghost fiction. Here, Upchurch's controlled and cautious style ill serves his murkier themes: some trendy ideas about gender, voyeurism, narcissism, and the haunting power of AIDS. Two narratives collide in this somewhat listless story. The first concerns the short marriage of Walker Popman, a divorced middle-aged photographer, and his wife, Susan, a mid-20s receptionist, whose very plainness, for him, is her most attractive feature. Walker's beautiful first wife was a strange sexual adventurer, a polymorphously perverse dynamo who tried to enlist Walker in her bisexual shenanigans. Instead, he developed an interest as a voyeur, recording his wife in all sorts of sordid encounters. When she predicted their divorce by tarot, she also envisioned his premature death--a death that occurs now while the newlyweds are traveling cross-country. Their trip has been haunted by all sorts of ghosts and visions that become even stronger when Walker has a heart attack in a Chicago museum. Back home in Seattle, Susan discovers that Walker had been seeing a psychiatrist, Jerry Plume--a detached and unemotional homosexual who found himself turned on by his sessions with Walker, the first time his professional boundaries had been tested. Though Plume's first love was the wild, flamboyant son of his own shrink, he maintained a fairly sedate sexual life afterward and imagined himself untouched by the widening chain of viral infection. But just as Susan comes closer to resolving her apparent madness, Plume's current lover tests positive, throwing the psychiatrist into a tailspin. Susan saves herself, and casts out her demons, by breaking the spell of Walker's ex, who managed to seduce the confused widow in her grief. The AIDS-haunted melodrama fancies itself much more, and it also rests on some questionable notions about the threat to the general populace. Careful writing can't disguise sloppy thinking.

Pub Date: Oct. 30th, 1995
ISBN: 0-393-03865-3
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1995