By Daniel Levine
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Readers get a bonus when they purchase Daniel Levine’s “Hyde,” a new take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”: The original thriller is included as a coda in the Levine book.
I strongly recommend reading the classic first, then heading into Levine’s novel, which tells the story from the monster’s point of view. As Grendel is to Beowulf or Wicked is to The Wizard of Oz, so Hyde is to Jekyll and Hyde.
Levine makes it somewhat difficult for contemporary readers by writing in the same style as Stevenson, which sounds stilted and overly formal to modern ears, at least mine. Still, one can’t deny the powerful, bloody exuberance of the violence and gore, however, which sometimes makes “The Walking Dead” seem like a walk in the proverbial park.
We’re barely on Page 4 before we get a vivid description of a wound that’s likened to “a blood-gorged spider at the heart of its web, its abdomen a-throb. ... Look at what he’s left me. What he’s made me do. All those experimental powders, those double injections ― and for what? The end is the same.” Welcome to my nightmares, thank you very much.
One doesn’t come to a book like this expecting sunshine and unicorns, and if there has ever been a more depressing, blackhearted and black-smogged version of London in the late 1800s, I’ve yet to read it.
Levine gives Jekyll all sorts of psychological back story that’s missing from the Stevenson original, reaching far into the past to the twisted circumstances that led to Jekyll’s twisted search to explain the duality of man.
In an early scene, we witness Jekyll’s father as he takes a fountain pen and stabs it into his own throat. “Father’s pen” is henceforth carried in Jekyll’s pocket at all times, a nasty little talisman to the man who created both Jekyll and his demonic alter ego. Sexual abuse and a thwarted love affair further contribute to Jekyll’s madness. There’s even a bit of midlife crisis, because Jekyll is turning 50 and stressing about doing things “to make it all seem meaningful.”
Levine’s monster is as philosophical as he is hideous, desperately trying to both free himself from his “host,” Jekyll, while at the same time pondering Big Ideas. “Perhaps the human mind is something more than simply the workings of the brain, of over-adapted muscle matter. Perhaps it is part of something else, some larger, universal consciousness to which we are all connected. We are all one fluid mind, and have only to realize it. ... I suppose I am trying to believe in that.”
As the horrors experienced by both Jekyll and Hyde (not to mention those around them) escalate toward the end, it’s impossible not to feel sympathy for the creature. But overall, the story merely clarifies what Stevenson already, and brilliantly, hinted at in the original. Sometimes too much explanation is just ... too much. (MCT)