Crispin Clare, the central character, is in transition, moving from sickness to health, attempting to connect past and present, to integrate a fragmented and confused self into a whole, healthy human being. In many ways he is opaque: From the context of the real-life narrative, he himself says little to cast light on his own thoughts and evident traumas; indeed, for one who is recovering from serious mental illness, he seems, on the surface, strangely quiet, unassuming, “normal.” It is only in brief moments of action—the faint during the Ouija-board game, the paranoia during the first meeting with Jim—that the reader suspects the troubled mind beneath the almost passive exterior, and it is only with Matthew Perry, in the middle of the night, that Clare can confront his painful past. That he is recovering by the novel’s end is made evident not only by the fact that he has secured a teaching position but also in Stow’s hints that past and present, imagination and reality, are beginning to merge into a unified whole.
Other characters in the novel face similar challenges to the self, but they function primarily as foils to, if not projections of, Clare. Clare’s nineteen-year-old cousin, Mark, like Clare is entering a new phase of his life (adulthood) and is undefined sexually. Jim Maunoir, the priest who has lost faith in his calling, appears, near the novel’s end, to be about to return to the priesthood—to have found himself. Matthew Perry,...
(The entire section is 559 words.)