Much as Morris loves Massimina’s mind, what really wins him is when she explains that she’s slept with her mother ever since her papa died when she was two – not kinkily, except in Morris’s mind: “The thought of the two females going to bed together, the one old and heavy and stale, the other fresh, young and virgin, stirred a curious sensation in Morris that wasn’t quite excitement, or quite repulsion, but as it were an intensification of interest pure and simple. He prided himself on his interest in life.” Also on being “a slave to no animal urges” – though curious fancies do flit across his consciousness at odd moments. Moved by her allure, Morris thinks, “Perhaps it would be fun one day to try out one another’s clothes. … ”
Parks traps us inside this psycho’s skull, rendering his ghastly innards better than Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs (though less well than his Red Dragon; and infinitely less scarily than either)(some of this I agree with, and some of it I don’t!). These guys aren’t evil geniuses, just connivers and their mental clockworks are always slipping cogs. Morris’s desperate efforts to keep his plot ticking make for fascinating, horrifying, hilarious reading.
Parks’ light tone and touch are utterly remote from generic killer and psycho-bios. Devotees craving close-ups of gore dripping viscously from ice picks onto severed limbs will be disappointed. Juggling the Stars is above all a droll book. When Morris extorts 400,000,000 lire from Massimina’s parents, he considers donating 40,000,000 to charity; “the fact was,” he thinks to himself, “he was a generous person, if only he had something to be generous with.” Morris is forever reflecting on aspects of his character apt to be noted by future biographers. The book’s wickedness at the expense of its own central character. cunning in his machinations to leave no clues yet clueless about his own motives, recalls Nabokov. The terrible mock honeymoon trek of Morris and Massimina is a bit like Humbert and Lolita’s – except that Massimina, too dim to know she’s in danger, is having the time of her life.
Morris’s adventure is macabre fun orchestrated with immaculate precision. We sweat through each hairpin turn of events and each seems spontaneous and in retrospect inevitable. Will Morris yield to his tender impulse to marry Massimina, pull off the scam and live happily ever after as a plump plutocrat? How on earth will he continue to keep straight his diverse lies? And is it really wise for that horny vacationer they meet on the train to be ogling Massimina’s tank top quite so lasciviously?
Juggling the Stars is Parks’s first try at suspense writing. It’s a killer.