A Face Without A Heart by Rick Reed
A Stunning Retake on the Timeless Themes of Guilt, Decadence, and Despair in Oscar Wilde’s fin de siecle classic, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Amidst a gritty background of urban nihilism, a young man bargains his soul away, while his painfully beautiful holographic portrait mirrors his each and every sin and each nightmarish step deeper into depravity … even cold-blooded murder. A Face Without a Heart takes you on a thought provoking tour of the darkest sides of greed, lust, addiction, and violence.
Although this was originally released in 2000 to rave reviews, the test of the author’s work and skill shows as the story is equally moving and relevant today as it was then and also when Wilde originally published The Picture of Dorian Gray. In this thought provoking and masterfully written take on the timeless story of obsession, avarice, decadence, and the quest for endless beauty, Reed has delivered a poignant adaptation able to delve more deeply into themes the original shied away from.
Liam Howard, a photographer and artist, spies an innocent Gary Adrion on the el train and can’t help following the younger man to ask Gary to pose for him. After seeing the disturbing brilliance of Liam’s unique work, he agrees and sets into motion unexpected but far reaching implications. Liam creates a hologram of Gary’s youthful beauty, shinning brightly with the evidence of Liam’s love for his subject. In a flash of fearful mockery, Gary offers to give up his soul to remain as beautiful as the hologram forever. Of course Gary’s wish is fulfilled, allowing him to live a bacchanalian lifestyle full of anonymous sex, endless parties and drug cocktails with no fear of repercussions. Eventually the emptiness of his life and lack of morality begins to eat at Gary, forcing him to face the reality of his so-called gifted existence.
Gary is the embodiment of privileged youth from his emotionless upbringing to his entitled gallivants through endless parties, shopping sprees, and drug and sex escapades. Confident in the knowledge his hologram bears all ill effects of his actions; Gary employs an out of sight, out of mind philosophy to avoid the any consequences of his behavior. Blithely altering and ruining numerous lives in his destructive wake, there is no limit to the depths Gary sinks within the seemingly charmed life he leads. Not even cold-blooded murder shakes the foundation of his empty life and it takes true despair for him to realize that even his acts of generosity are selfish in origin. This mirror on the attributes and priorities of past and present society is a stark and vivid characterization.
Told in alternating first person point of view, each character gives their thoughts on Gary, his actions, and their philosophy on life. Each figure is fully developed and thoughtfully written from Henrietta’s carefree theories with an obsession about youth and beauty to Liam’s cautious unrequited love. Reed’s powerful writing style evokes vivid meaning without long, flowery prose allowing the story to move swiftly without the slow dragging buildup of the original. Rotating viewpoints allows a refreshing change and reprieve to the escalating intensity and dramatic tension of the story.
Although Reed’s take is more explicit, it does allow more depth and attention to be paid to various homoerotic elements such as Gary’s appetite for sex and his willingness to take either sex partner for the thrill of release. Additionally the character of Henrietta as his best friend who happens to be a drag queen adds another layer of sensibility to the story in sharp contrast to Liam’s gentle forbidden love for Gary. While this book is not necessarily gay fiction, Reed doesn’t shy away from sexuality in any form as exemplified in the scene of Gary’s corruption by Lucinda.
Gary’s perpetual life amidst the underground partying circuit of urban Chicago is often viscerally charged, urged on at every turn by Henrietta and her belief in the shallow delights of life as the only interesting topic of conversation and action. Even though Henrietta ends up alone and unable to escape the ravages of time, she clings to the bitter end to her carefree philosophy and best described by Gary as “endlessly entertaining but rarely compassionate”. Although not necessarily a likable set of characters, each fulfills the purpose of echoing society’s endless fascination and obsession with youth, beauty and chemical delights.
It’s arguable whether the subject matter is more applicable today versus in the past, but the themes are undoubtedly timeless as is the excellent writing. Not always an easy book to read, the greatest compliment that I can pay the author is that this book will remain in my thoughts for a very long time to come. It may not surpass the original, but it certainly is a brilliant adaptation that is comparable. Is eternal youth and beauty worth your soul? If you need further help to find the answer, I definitely recommend this wonderful take on a classic dilemma.
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