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Review by
Mark McLaughlin
by Rick R. Reed
The Design Image Group
ISBN: 1-891946-04-8

I first read Oscar Wilde's THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY back when I was a teenager, and though I enjoyed it, I was a little disappointed by the book's genteel restraint. Oh sure, it's a perfectly written and stylish classic, but frankly, clever little Dorian didn't strike me as all that evil. He simply seemed like a charming bastard with a few bad habits. No big deal.

I found it hard to believe that Dorian's effete, understated sins could have transformed his soul painting into a hideously corrupt vision of hellish evil. If anything, I'd have thought his painting might only have looked like a paunchy guy with bloodshot eyes and liver spots. Maybe some zits.

Rick R. Reed's modern update on the classic tale finally brings the story up to speed, and does the concept justice. Reed is no stranger to the horror genre. He is the author of two novels from Dell Abyss, PENANCE and OBSESSED, and his work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including the Design Image anthologies THE DARKEST THIRST and THE KISS OF DEATH.

Reed's anti-hero, Gary Adrion (note the anagram) starts out as a spoiled, too-handsome-for-his-own-good young man. As the novel progresses, he indulges in a veritable catalogue of forbidden vices. He even starts taking, among other abusive substances, a designer drug called Seven that can lead to nerve damage and facial deformation. His kinky sex life makes Caligula look like a Boy Scout raised in Mormon territory.

Instead of an oil painting, Gary has a secret hologram, made for him by Liam Howard, an artist who is hopelessly in love with him. Gary's confidante is Henrietta Wotten, a jaded transvestite performer who encourages Gary in his amoral progression. Even though Henrietta is amoral, (s)he still has a sense of dignity and personal honesty, and often says, "I swear on a stack of bibles!"

Other notorious characters in this novel include a rotund club owner named Auntie Bee, a "girl with something extra" named Lucinda, and Joshua, a shaved, pierced, tattooed bouncer. This juicy novel contains more freaks and sinners than a Hieronymous Bosch painting.

Reed's story is far more sexual and violent than Wilde's, but this is one case where additional sex and violence actually make a story more logical. For Gary, like Dorian, is supposed to be the ultimate in human decadence, and that's one omelette you can't make without breaking a few deviled eggs.

A FACE WITHOUT A HEART has a fairly unconventional format. Each chapter is headed with a character's name, and is told first-person from the viewpoint of that character. Initially I wondered about this: are each of these characters "writing" their narratives...? I think I must have had DRACULA and novels like it on the brain, where the first-person accounts are all letters and journal entries. But with Reed's novel, it soon became clear that the chapters are not written accounts but in fact, in-the-moment internal monologues - a more innovative way of conveying each character's deepest thoughts and feelings. So ultimately, the unconventional format proved to be an enhancement to the story. It gave the book a more dramatic, almost theatrical feel.

The book is also copiously illustrated with moody photo montages of good-looking people doing wicked things, and that adds a lot to the presentation.

With any luck, some production company will make a movie out of A FACE WITHOUT A HEART. As I read it, I mentally cast Matt Damon as Gary and Jaye (CRYING GAME) Davidson as Henrietta. But don't wait for the movie! For an entertaining, energetic, saucy reading experience, you can't go wrong with a copy of this decadent delight.

If Oscar Wilde were to suddenly pop out of his grave and rejoin the social elite, would he approve of A FACE WITHOUT A HEART? Heck, he'd love it - he'd probably want his own autographed copy.

4 BookWyrms

This review copyright 2001 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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