Friday, April 4, 2014

New Voices: Daniel Levine retells Jekyll and Hyde

by Bob Minzesheimer)

(Photo: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

By Daniel Levine
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 393 pp.

The book:

What it's about: Debut novel inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Narrated by Edward Hyde, who's treated as a tragic hero, it offers an alternate perspective on Dr. Jekyll's chemical experiments that result in a split personality.

Why it's notable: Publishers Weekly says "Levine's evocation of Victorian England is marvelously authentic."

A taste: "We caught our unexpected reflection in the warped mirror: a bulging mass of flesh with eyes goggling beneath a distended forehead and an octopus mouth."

The author:

Quick bio: Levine, 34, grew up in Livingston, N.J., and received an M.F.A. from the University of Florida. Single, he lives in Lakewood, Colo., and teaches writing at Red Rock Community College.

On his first reading of Stevenson's novella: "I was in 10th grade at Livingston (N.J.) High School and I loved it. I remember we made a video and I played Hyde, scowling and sneering at the camera."

On his goal in writing Hyde: "I wanted to pay homage to the original story, but continue the conversation that Stevenson started 130 years ago. I see Hyde as more than just a mindless monster. He's a vehicle for Jekyll's suppressed libidinal urges. I was most interested in what Stevenson left out."

On reprinting the original 84-page novella at the end of Levine's 297-page novel: "I hope my novel leads readers to the original story, whether or not they have ever read it before. It's a story everyone seems to know but often from all the adaptations, not the original."

On his research: "I read a lot of biographies of Victorian writers and especially loved the portrait of Stevenson in Claire Harman's biography Myself and the Other Fellow. I studied old London street maps and relied on vivid memories I had of London from the six months I spent there in 2000 on a semester abroad."

Up next: A novel, set 28,000 years ago, about "human origins and the last of the Neanderthals who actually weren't brutish cavemen but rather capable people."