Cover: Aaron Anderson
Publisher: DSP Publications
Length: 56,887 words
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.
He was beautiful. Beauty is so seldom ascribed to men, too often incorrectly attributed to men with feminine features—wavy blond hair, fine cheekbones, teeth cut from porcelain. But I’ve always thought of beauty as a quality that went deeper than the corporeal… something dark, dense, inexplicable, capable of stirring longings primal, longings one would be powerless to resist.
He was beautiful. I sat on a Red Line “L” train, headed downtown, bags of heavy camera equipment heaped at my side, one arm resting protectively over them. I watched the young man, unable to train my thoughts on anything other than this man who had blotted out the reality of the day, magical and transforming. Beauty, especially so rare a beauty, can do that. The young man was an eclipse, his presence coming between myself and the reality of the day hurtling by outside train windows.
He had come in behind three foreign people, a bright counterpoint to their drab clothes, colorless, already wilting in the August humidity. They chattered to one another in a language unrecognizable, Polish maybe, and I was annoyed at their yammering, unable to block it out sufficiently enough to concentrate on the book I was reading, a biography of William Blake.
I almost didn’t notice him. It wasn’t like me to pay much attention to what went on around me, especially when I was preparing for a shoot. Usually I used the time on the train to set up the photographs I would take, the way I would manipulate light and shadow and how it fell on my models, to arrange the props, set up and test the lighting.
But something caused me to look up when the doors opened—perhaps I was struck by the dissonance created by the unknown language—and I saw him. Close-cropped brown hair, a bit of stubble framing full lips, a bruise fading to dull below his right eye. The bruise did not detract from the man’s beauty but served to enhance it, making of the rough features something more vulnerable. The bruise was the embodiment of a yearning for the touch of a finger, the whisper of a kiss. He wore an old, faded T-shirt with a Bulls logo, black denim cut off just above his knees, and a pair of work boots, the seam on the left beginning to separate. In spite of the workman’s garb, there was something intellectual about the man, an intensity in his aquamarine eyes that portended deeper thought.
At that moment, I made a decision. I don’t know what caprice seized me. I have always led an orderly life, completely without surprise. But when the train pulled to a stop and the young man stood, I acted on an impulse that was as sudden as it was uncontrollable.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of my favourite books ever, so it was with a mixture of excitement and nerves that I started this book. Excitement because I knew it would be an amazing read if it lived up to the original, and nerves because I wasn’t sure whether or not I’d be able to enjoy the read if it wasn’t up to scratch. I shouldn’t have worried.
The first thing I realised while reading was that it has been too long since I read Oscar Wilde’s book. While everything I felt while reading that book was still firmly fixed in my memory, the story’s details had mostly faded. I’m not sure whether or not that’s a good thing. For starters it means that I can’t tell you how close A Face Without a Heart stays to the original story. Having said that, I know I read this book with the same mixture of horror and fascination as I did the Wilde book.
Now, before I say anything else I want to say this: A Face Without a Heart is not a romance; it doesn’t resemble a love story. This is a tale about sin, debauchery, sex, drugs, and lack of morals and what such a lifestyle does to a man.
Gary Adrion’s (clever play on a name) story had me hooked from the opening paragraph. There’s never any doubt that Gary is evil. Even before they exchange a single word Liam Howard, is scared of the man he’s followed off the train. His instinct tells him to get away, his compulsion forces him to keep on following the beautiful young man and even to invite him to model for one of his holograms.
I’m not going to go into the details of the story. Those who have read The Picture of Dorian Gray will know what to expect and those who are new to the story should be allowed to enjoy it in all its horrifying glory. I do want to say that the story hooked me from the beginning. Once I’d started I couldn’t put the book down until I had read all the way to the end, mesmerised by Gary Adrion’s brutal selfishness and yet unable to thoroughly dislike him.
In fact, that’s what I admired most in this book; the gradual decline of Gary’s character and morals and the fact that even in his darkest moments he can’t escape his conscience completely. I should have detested him more or less from the start but found that impossible. It takes true talent to write a monster and still make the reader invested in the character. By the time I finished the book I wasn’t sure whether it had been the author’s skill or my own lack of morals that made me feel a tiny bit sorry for Gary. I still haven’t worked that one out, but I prefer to blame Rick R. Reed.
My advice to other readers is as follows: If you want to read about love and happy endings, please look elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you are not afraid of the dark and you like a story that will mesmerize, shock, horrify, and fascinate, you, A Face Without a Heart is the perfect read for you.
Rick R. Reed is all about exploring the romantic entanglements of gay men in contemporary, realistic settings. While his stories often contain elements of suspense, mystery and the paranormal, his focus ultimately returns to the power of love.
He is the author of dozens of published novels, novellas, and short stories. He is a three-time EPIC eBook Award winner (for Caregiver, Orientation and The Blue Moon Cafe). He is also a Rainbow Award Winner for both Caregiver and Raining Men. Lambda Literary Review has called him, "a writer that doesn't disappoint."
Rick lives in Seattle with his husband and a very spoiled Boston terrier. He is forever "at work on another novel."