Title: A Face without a Heart
Author: Rick R. Reed
Publisher: DSP Publications
Length: 200 Pages
Category: Fantasy, Horror
At a Glance: There’s an overall chilling sort of savagery to this novel, both violent and psychological, which allows readers to appreciate it on its own merits rather than as a simple rehashing of Wilde’s story
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: A modern-day and thought-provoking retelling of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray that esteemed horror magazine Fangoria called “…a book that is brutally honest with its reader and doesn’t flinch in the areas where Wilde had to look away…. A rarity: a really well-done update that’s as good as its source material.”
A beautiful young man bargains his soul away to remain young and handsome forever, while his holographic portrait mirrors his aging and decay and reflects every sin and each nightmarish step deeper into depravity… even cold-blooded murder. Prepare yourself for a compelling tour of the darkest sides of greed, lust, addiction, and violence.
Review: One of the classics of Victorian literature, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey, is a novel (Wilde’s only novel) whose themes have stood the test of time, and is one of my favorite stories to see reinterpreted for a contemporary audience. The preface of the book, added after the story’s original publication was widely criticized as immoral by the puritanical society of the time, contains one of the author’s now most famous quotes: “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” This, of course, was also the novel that was used against Wilde in court, due to its homosexual overtones, in the “gross indecency” trial that sent him to prison for two years.
But, before I get too carried away with my love of all things Oscar Wilde, the reason I was excited to read A Face without a Heart, apart from my being a fan of its author, was to see how Rick R. Reed would put his own signature on the story. In its fourth publication, first released in 2000, Reed’s interpretation of hedonism, and the aesthetic, and the relationship between an idealized youth and beauty gives Gary Adrion’s story a chilling and modern twist on the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for.” Art and morality commingle with the Faustian-esque bargain Gary makes in trading his soul for eternal youth, and we readers watch as that trade sends him spiraling into a decade-plus long hell. Gary is frozen in time, twenty-one in perpetuity, and goes on to immerse himself in a life of debauchery and self-indulgence, maintaining his surface beauty while the art that captured that beauty, initially, begins to rot as he immerses himself in a wasteland of empty sex, alcohol, and hardcore drugs.
Where Wilde’s “Dorian Grey” was written in a florid prose that fit the narrative and Wilde’s own style, Reed’s novel is written for his contemporary audience and showcases his own style equally well. Told from multiple points of view, which the author accomplishes with great success, the narrative voice from one chapter to the next reads seamlessly, each character’s voice distinct. Gary has his own “devil and angel” sitting on his shoulders and whispering in his ears—Henrietta, a sassy and cynical drag queen, is our Lord Henry Watton; while Liam is the novel’s Basil Hallward—it’s his art through which we see the reflection of the artist and his love for his subject.
The catalyst for Gary’s downfall, or, maybe I should say the victim of Gary’s scorn which spurs his downfall, is modernized for this novel as well. Zoe D’Angelo is the story’s Sibyl Vane. An exotic dancer rather than an actress, Zoe pays a steep price for Gary’s admiration just as Sibyl did Dorian’s. I also like the unexpected undercurrent Reed gives to Davio D’Angelo’s relationship with his sister. There’s an overall chilling sort of savagery to this novel, both violent and psychological, which allows readers to appreciate it on its own merits rather than as a simple rehashing of Wilde’s story. Trust me, you may recognize the bare bones of this novel’s inspiration, but Reed fleshes his version out and gives readers a few surprises before it all comes full circle.
As is its inspiration, A Face without a Heart is, at the end, a redemption story which is laced with Reed’s particular brand of horror. There are some truly gruesome scenes in this book that added a biting edge to what is otherwise a cautionary tale, and it is, as one would expect from this author, well written.
You can buy A Face without a Heart here: