Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Fred is an undercover narcotics agent who poses as drug user Bob Arctor. Bob shares his house with two other users, Barris and Luckman, and has a girlfriend, Donna, who is a small-time dealer. Bob is addicted to Substance D—the “D” standing primarily for Death—and is ostensibly using Donna to find the source of this drug. To prevent corruption, the government uses scramble suits to protect the identity of agents; not even supervisors know who they are underneath. Fred is assigned to monitor the group at Bob’s house, but by necessity, that means he must monitor himself as Bob or blow his cover.
When surveillance of Bob’s house intensifies because of suspicious behavior, so do acts of sabotage occurring against Bob. On the same day that the government installs monitoring equipment in his house, Bob and his housemates almost die from somebody tinkering with his car. As Fred, he finds himself reviewing the recordings of Bob and his friends, finding himself in knotty discussions with his supervisor and fellow agents about the results. Fred also finds himself disassociated from Bob, reaching a point where the two are unable to guess each other’s actions. The title of the novel refers to the surveillance tool and the consequences when Bob/Fred cannot comprehend what he sees.
Government agents conduct tests on Fred and discover Substance D has damaged his brain, splitting his personae. At the same time, Barris comes to the police and...
(The entire section is 525 words.)
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