Friday, June 14, 2013

Forgotten Books: Take My Face -- Peter Held (Jack Vance)

When Jack Vance died, I thought about which book of his I might like to reread.  But then it occurred to me that I had a Vance book that I'd never read.  It's a paperback in such good shape that I kind of hated to read it, but I figured that now was the time.  So I took it off the shelf and out of its little plastic bag and read it.

Robert Struve, age 13, is riding a borrowed motor scooter when he's hit by a car being steered by an 8-year-old girl named Julie Hovard (she's sitting in her father's lap).  The accident results in a fire that severely burns Robert's face. His mother can't afford plastic surgery, and Robert comes to accept his looks.  He drives himself at school and at football and does very well both academically and on the field.  As a senior he's invited to a sorority party, and as part of their initiation several girls, including Julie, are supposed to kiss him.  Robert has no idea that Julie was responsible for his facial disfigurement, but the prank upsets him.  He attacks her (not seriously) and is sent to reform school.  

Years later one of the other girls is murdered, her face slashed.  Her husband confesses, but her brother is sure someone else did the deed.  And then he finds out that Robert has been released from reform school.    While there, he had plastic surgery, and no one knows what he looks like now.  And there's a new guy in town.  Julie finds herself falling for him, but then there are two more murders of women who were at that party and part of the prank.

This book is a nice look at the 1950s, a very different time.  Vance was a fine observer of society, and while all the things he talks about are familiar to me, younger readers might be aghast at the way things were.  There's a lot of story packed into a very short novel, and of course there are some twists along the way.  The violence is mostly offstage (except for one time), so the gore is minimal.  Vance isn't writing in the style of his more famous SF novels, but he's just as good in this mode as the other.  I'm glad I finally got around to reading this one.


George said...

TAKE MY FACE may be the Jack Vance novel hardest to come by. I'm glad you found a copy and reviewed it. Although TAKE MY FACE was written early in his career, Vance's talent shows in every line.

Anonymous said...

It's a paperback in such good shape that I kind of hated to read it, but I figured that now was the time. So I took it off the shelf and out of its little plastic bag and read it.

Oh, quit bragging.


Seriously, sounds interesting. I've never seen a copy though in my bookselling days a lot of people were looking for it.


Unknown said...

Well, as you can see in the scan, there's a crease in the lower right-hand corner, but otherwise it's almost like new. It's been in that bag for a long time, though, so it was about time for me to take it out. It's back in it now, however.

Kent Morgan said...

Bill, are all those paperbacks piled in your office in plastic bags? Where do you find bags that size and are they archival?

Unknown said...

No, they aren't all in bags, only some of which are archival. I bought 'em on eBay.

Bud said...

As usual, i've never heard of this one, and plan to read it if I can find it relatively cheaply. Thanks!

BTW, if current youth would be aghast at how things were in the 50s, I'm aghast at how things are now, so I guess we're even 8-)

Rick Robinson said...

I'm not familiar with this one either, but it seems to be quite a rarity. I guess I'll have to take your review as my one and probably only experience of it.

Monte Herridge said...

Didn't Underwood-Miller reprint this book years ago? The story is familiar and I am sure I have read it. I think it was reprinted under Vance's name.

Unknown said...

You are correct, sir. I've never seen that edition, or the original hardcover, either.