THE PROGENITOR of Robin Vigfusson's first novel may well be Wuthering Heights but the theme of demonic possession barely survives its transition to 20th-century America.
Karen Wendell, Heathcliff's female alter ego, grows up alternating between periods of hard work and respectability and times when she seems to embrace danger and lawlessness. At such times she hangs out with teenage hoods, becomes addicted to heroin, and is indiscriminately promiscuous. In one of her periods of reform she meets and falls in love with John Wendell, a young doctor and seemingly a prince among men. They marry and have three children, but Karen cannot resist the pull of her other self. An astrologer had once said that she had a lawless streak that could tempt a man to kill her. It is borne out when John disappears and in a suicide note confesses to a love for her akin to hate, a wild jealous love that tempted him to kill her. Karen can only make an equally melodramatic response: "to John, husband and twin, lover, keeper, secret sharer, whose feelings, as she'd known all along, had been every bit as lethal as hers."
It's all too much. Wuthering Heights has been described as a morality play infused with poetry, in which good and evil contend for the soul. But despite intimations of the supernatural, the cruelties of Heathcliff's childhood provide a sound psychological explanation for his subsequent behaviour. Expensive Habits, relying as it does on dark forces and the conjunction of planets, does not Vigfusson writes with an attractive vigor but the book is at the end another litany of bad habits dressed in haute Gothic. She has the talents to do better.