Friday, August 09, 2013

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

Since I wrote about Jack Vance last month (always ahead of the curve here), I'm reprinting that post for today's Forgotten Books.  

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...

I had a copy of TAKE MY FACE for years before I found out "Peter Held" was actually Jack Vance. I enjoyed your review even more the second time I read it!

Kelly Robinson said...

This makes the third read for me, but I don't mind at all. (I came across it again looking for publishing info on the book's two titles).

On my blog, you mentioned being unaware of the alternate title 'The Flesh Mask.' That was actually Vance's preferred title (supposedly), though my review was worded to suggest the opposite. (I fixed it.) I'm guessing it may have seemed to gruesome to the publishers?

I prefer the title 'Take My Face,' I think, and it's even more gruesome in its own way.

Kelly Robinson said...

TOO gruesome, that is. Never comment before coffee.

Juri said...

I've read this in the Finnish translation and boy, do I ever wish I had the original to read. Of the translation, I could only say it was interesting.