THE MAN WHO TURNED INTO HIMSELF: A Novel by David Ambrose (St. Martin's Press: $17; 196 pp.). If David Ambrose, an English screenwriter based in Europe, hadn't run out of creative energy two-thirds of the way through this first novel, "The Man Who Turned Into Himself" might have been a classic. The premise is ingenious: A likable Connecticut magazine publisher, Rick Hamilton, is involved in a terrible car accident, and on regaining consciousness discovers that the world has changed in significant ways. His family and friends carry the same names but are distinctly different, and Rick's insistence on the details of his previous life lands him in a mental institution. There, under hypnosis, the truth begins to come out: Rick has been transported into a parallel universe, and body, inhabited by alter-ego Richard Hamilton, an unimaginative real estate developer who fights Rick's presence as best he can. Rick/Richard isn't schizophrenic: He is, rather, literally of two minds, and the best parts of "The Man Who Turned Into Himself" describe Rick's attempt to manipulate and then reason with Richard, to create an alliance between two disparate but unavoidably connected people. Ambrose does a good job overcoming the plot's technical difficulties--How do you split one voice in two? How do you make such a split plausible?--but after a while he seems more interested in tying up loose ends, by means of a psychiatrist's report, than in exploring this singular situation. We want more of Rick-inside-Richard, more of Richard resisting, reacting to Rick; it's as if Iago were truly inside Othello's head, or Mozart inside Salieri. "The Man Who Turned Into Himself" is a striking novel, but could have been a tour de force if Ambrose had expanded his portraits of Rick/Richard rather than focused so narrowly on their anguish, confusion and strategies for escape.
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