-As I shaved, I stared at my face in the mirror with more curiosity than usual. For a moment or two, under the intensity of my own gaze, it began to look strange. As if, instead, I were staring at a wax model of myself. It was that same sensation of the unreality of things that had struck me the day before, wandering around Manhattan. But then, in a blink, everything was normal again. The face was mine.
This book is the story of Manne, or is it the story is Smith, no it’s the story of Stevenson, or is it?
The book begins with Manne, working as a psychiatrist out of a Manhattan address he could hardly afford, we learn that he is separated from his wife and that in the ten years since then his life has not moved on. As the story moves forward we are shown several glimpses of the instability of Manne’s grip on reality similar to the opening quote, for instance:
-thoughts still circled me, just beyond my grasp, as if they were emanating from somewhere else.
He thinks at one moment someone is following him butTwo things then happen which have an influence on him, first of all he receives a call telling him his ex wife Abby is dead and secondly he is called by the detective he works with, D’Angelo, to classify a seemingly confused man, Esterhazy, who claims he is not who the police and his supposed wife say he is but a Mr Smith, as mad, then based on a doubt about what he had been asked to do he goes back and rescues the man taking him back to his own appartement.
Manne believing he is being followed rushes into the subway and in the crowd ends up being pushed in front of an oncoming train. After waking up in a psychiatric hospital where no one believes he is Manne, he gradually takes on the identity of a Mr Smith in order to be released, except that he is Smith, maybe:
-I had to mourn the death of Manne, while at the same time assist in the birth of Smith. Right now, the two felt equally distant from me. Equally unreal. I was located somehow in a void between them, observing both as if they were someone else.
He then escapes from the hospital and disappears into Smith’s New York where there are differences and parallels to Manne’s life, with him slowly slipping into Smith’s life as if it were his:
-It seemed that as Smith gradually solidified, the rest of the world reconfigured itself in order to account for his presence, albeit imperfectly. Just as, at the same time, it erased the traces of Manne from the city’s streets.
As we get used to him being Smith, his own realisation of the contradiction of his having been Manne and the choosing to be Smith become apparent:
-In my gut I knew that wasn’t the case. It was more complicated than that. Stories I’d made up in the hospital about Smith had seemingly taken on a life of their own.
Just as Manne had had his Abby, Smith had had his Marie with whom he now meets up again, she knows he is Smith and she eventually takes him back to the appartement where she lives which belongs to a Mr Stevenson. Smith putting on one of Stevenson’s suits Slowly becomes Stevenson:
-Smith, like Manne before him, was losing shape and form. In the end, I hadn’t done enough to keep him alive. I walked the length of the street, passing no one on the way. Not only was I leaving this street forever, but soon enough nothing would remain of it. The fact literalized a feeling I sometimes had, that as I moved through the city, I was destroying what was behind me and inventing what was in front of me.
Stevenson then finds himself following Manne, confused? So was I by now, and the loop was looped!
First published as ‘The Reflection’ by Melville House in 2015