I turned for the door. He touched my arm again. Wait. I stopped with the key extended. What do you want?
I want to see your face.
My beard growth stiffened. My face. No, I could not show him my face, not Utterson. Yet with a riveted helplessness I was lowering the key and turning, my own hand involuntarily rising to the brim of my topper. Then I lifted it off. I stood above him, head steaming, a cold halo round my scalp where the band had indented my hair. Utterson stared up. He swallowed. Could you, he said faintly, could you step down please? I laughed, a little hysterical. This is all you get, Utterson. Now go home. And as if released from his spell, I spun for the lock and crunched in the key.
–Excerpt from Hyde
Late Night Library: Summarize your book in 10 words or fewer.
Daniel Levine: Hyde—Jekyll’s inner animal and whipping boy—bares his story.
LNL: If this book were the lovechild of two others, who are its parents?
DL: The Book of Evidence by John Banville and Spider by Patrick McGrath. Twisted parents, to be sure. The former contributed its sinister elegance, nasty sense of humor, and pathetic redemption, while the latter lent its claustrophic paranoia and grey London grime, its turn of the screw at the end.
LNL: What ingredients go into the recipe of your writing style?
DL: 1 oz clarity, 1 oz alliteration and rhythm, .5 oz colorful flourish, .5 oz dry humor, 3-4 dashes antediluvian expression, poured over rocks of icy appraisal, meditatively stirred, strained into a chill elegant glass through a fine-tuned sieve.
LNL: Name one book you wish you could read again for the first time.
DL: I wish it weren’t so obvious, but Lolita. I read it for the first time senior year in college, and it just slayed me. I don’t often cry at the end of books. But when it happens the tears are sweet, the ache pure and uncomplicated, in a way. Some of my childhood books made me cry—A Day No Pigs Would Die and Where the Red Fern Grows. Lolita did it too. It was that passage when Humbert finds her, married and pregnant, in weedy depressing Appalachia at the end, and he realizes that he loves her still, “pale and polluted, and big with another’s child, but still gray-eyed, still sooty-lashed, still auburn and almond, still Carmencita, still mine.” It broke my heart. He’s so wretched, so pitiable in his impossible love. It gets to me just writing the lines. Now that I have some distance from my infatuation with Nabokov I can see where he, dare I say, overwrites a bit, goes on a bit too long, becomes a hair too obscure. But Lolita is pretty much a perfect book, and that’s a rare thing.
If I had my ultimate wish, though, I might ask to listen to Lolita, totally fresh, on the audio version read by the masterful Jeremy Irons. Once you hear this reading, Humbert’s voice becomes Irons’ voice; they are inseparable. I’d like to listen to this on a long cross-country drive with a smart, beautiful woman.
LNL: Answer a question you wish people would ask you about writing.
DL: I lived in many different places while writing Hyde, all in Boulder, CO. From place to place, I moved my writing desk, a dark plywood item from Target which I assembled myself and which has a certain spare aesthetic. Over the years, the desktop has become topographical in places, and where my computer has sat, a pale, interesting, matrix-like scar has been burned into the surface by the machine’s heat (I began the book on a clunky Dell laptop). I am writing on the desk now, though on an infinitely sleeker, cooler MacBook Air.
I’ve moved this desk from place to place six times over the past four and a half years. At first, a tiny bedroom subletted from two strange characters, a couple who weirded me out so sufficiently that I rarely emerged from my room. Next, I moved into an eclectic house with four warm soon-to-be friends; I had a large room and situated my desk before a smallish window looking into the branches of a complex evergreen in which many squirrels scampered about. Our group moved into another very beautiful house, with hardwood floors, a granite topped kitchen, a subtle lighting system, a tiny idyllic backyard with a hammock and wild roses. My bedroom was pleasant, with its own bathroom. My desk sat beneath a horizontal bar of high windows looking into the hedges and leaves that enclosed the house. Next was a cottage in Chautauqua Park where I lived and wrote furiously for two 9-month seasons, my desk in an alcove in my bedroom below a window peeking out on the back stairs of the Events Hall, where employees would often gossip or conduct private phone calls. The window had nice wooden Venetian blinds that I would shutter to thin strips of light in the otherwise unlit room. I spent one sweltering summer in a cement apartment building in a minuscule yet cozy bedroom, shirtless and sweating as I wrote. Now I live in a quaint drafty house attached to a horse ranch a few miles outside of town, in the northern foothills. My desk fits perfectly beneath a tall window looking onto a hilly grass valley, through which a mossy trickle winds down. A white propane tank shaped like a pill a few feet from my window only slightly mars the bucolic view.
Atmosphere, a room’s aura, is very important to writing, I think. But at the same time, wherever I set my desk has to become my sanctum. Privacy and full enclosure are crucial. The rest is welcome luxury.
Get a copy of Hyde at IndieBound.
Daniel Levine studied English Literature and Creative Writing at Brown University and received his MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of Florida. He has taught composition and creative writing at high schools and universities, including the University of Florida, Montclair State University, Red Rocks Community College, and Metropolitan State College of Denver. Originally from New Jersey, he now lives in Colorado.