The Other, related through the consciousness of Niles Perry, an inmate in a mental institution, concerns the events that almost annihilated his family decades earlier. Niles and his twin brother, Holland, lived with their grandmother, mother and father, stepsister, and other relatives on a farm in a small community in Connecticut in the 1930’s. Ada, the grandmother, was a Russian gypsy with supernatural powers, including “mystic transference,” the ability to empathize so completely with another person or an animal as to feel exactly what the other experienced. This talent, which she passed on to her twin grandsons, is in part responsible for the tragedy that unfolds in the course of the novel.
Niles and Holland, who are inseparable, much of the time live a fantasy life separate from the rest of the family. They assume various disguises and create imaginary dramas in which they are the heroes. Niles seems reliable, sensitive, and sympathetic to others’ feelings and needs, whereas Holland’s personality tends toward the perverse; he spends his talents on schemes that verge on the dangerous and sometimes veer into the criminal. The reader often is uncertain which twin is involved in any particular “accident”; the two personalities become so entwined that the twins’ identities seem to merge and re-form before the reader’s eyes. There are many secret conversations in which Holland plans the various schemes in which his brother joins, often as an unwilling...
(The entire section is 610 words.)