Weekly Wire
NewCityNet Wilde Redux

By Catey Sullivan

APRIL 3, 2000: 

Face Without a Heart by Rick R. Reed (Design Image Group, Inc.), $15.95, 211 pages

When a relative traveled to Costa Rica last year for a face lift, (apparently there's a clinic there that is the facility of choice for aging flight attendants, plus they do the job for about half what you'd pay in these United States), I was appalled by the vanity of the act. For about thirty seconds.

After all, it's better to spend a few grand than do something really reckless -- like sell one's soul -- in the quest to derail the relentless march of crows feet.

With "A Face Without A Heart," Chicago novelist Rick R. Reed shows the dangers of exorbitant vanity by putting a grisly, twenty-first-century spin on Oscar Wilde's Victorian novella, "The Portrait of Dorian Gray." Reed starts with the anagramatically named Gary Adrion, a 19-year-old Adonis who has the ability to suck people into his orbit like a black hole. So it is that Liam Howard, a gay artist who specializes in "hologram hallucinations," happens to follow Gary down the street one day, trailing him east from the Belmont El stop.

Liam convinces the incandescent Gary to sit for a hologram, and commences to create one of the best works of his artistic career. Just as the portrait aged while Dorian cavorted in Wilde's novel, the hologram becomes slowly monstrous while Gary cats his way through life in "A Face Without A Heart."

The homoerotic subtext that ripples through Wilde's original story is put at the blazing forefront of his story. Gary's initial corrupter is Henrietta, a gorgeous drag queen for whom beauty is as necessary as oxygen. It is Henrietta who takes the callow Gary and shows him the delights of hedonism. As did Dorian, Gary displays a pansexuality that grows increasingly nihilistic and voracious as he accumulates years. His hologram wastes away, develops lesions and drips blood, the eyes turning a cloudy yellow. Gary, of course, remains pristine. At least his flesh does.

Reed's got a knack for presenting the gruesome lower depths of a soul and a body. His descriptions of Liam's holographs and the underground playgrounds of raves, pills, syringes and orgies that Gary frequents contain plenty of voyeuristic thrills. But despite its lengthy detailing of soulless sensual escapades, "Face Without a Heart" is, at heart, a deeply moral book. And in the end, evil never wins.


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