Predictably enough, this off-kilter psychological horror novel was packaged as
anything but. The paperback edition goes out of its way to avoid the dreaded
H-word, instead proclaiming it a “Psychosexual Thriller” and “Modern Gothic.”
Don’t be fooled: this is very much a work of horror fiction, and an unusually
potent and unflinching one.
The setting is early nineties San Francisco, where sad sack divorcee Michael
West elects to start his life anew in a small apartment building. He quickly
gets to know his fellow tenants, including the hot-to-trot Janette, the
compassionate Patricia, the needy Frank and the latter’s bratty son Brian.
There’s also Paul Marks, a shadowy plastic surgeon who moves into the space
A weird bond forms between Michael and Dr. Marks, even though the two
initially have little contact. Michael becomes obsessed with the doctor’s
exploits and takes to spying on him through his balcony window at night--with
Marks more often than not engaged in perverted sex acts. The man seems to have
an unnatural hold on people, and before long he manages to seduce practically
everyone, male and female, in the building. The only thing is Marks’ conquests
have a tendency to end up dead afterward.
Michael for his part isn’t quite the innocent voyeur he might seem. As the
story goes on we’re privy to more and more unsavory facets of his personality,
including a penchant for sharp knives and an unhealthy relationship with
mirrors. This latter fact grows increasingly prominent as Michael frequently
finds himself trapped behind mirrors while his “other” self goes about in the
real world, often performing ugly and disturbing acts.
The above might suggest a supernatural tilt to the proceedings. Viewed from
one angle, the tale seems a more-or-less straightforward account of psychic
possession. I, however, prefer to view the novel as a dramatization of
schizophrenia--note the constant motif of doubles and the fact that it’s a
first-person account, meaning the events related may not be entirely reliable.
However you interpret the proceedings, there are some confusing and/or
unexplained elements. The third act in particular, which contains some most
unexpected developments (including a brief sojourn away from the apartment
building where the rest of the story takes place), is a mite puzzling. Still,
the ever-mutating nature of the narrative ensures that the proceedings never
become predictable or repetitive, as they doubtlessly would in a more a
This was the only novel T.L. Parkinson completed before his death
(of AIDS). It shows a real understanding of the inner workings of apprehension,
with a pungent air of unease that constantly keeps one on edge. The frankness
of the sexual content will offend many, but it’s in service of a tale that
thrives on psychosexual derangement. Eerie, disquieting and darkly compelling
this book is, but warm and cuddly it definitely isn’t.