A Face Without A Heart: A Modern-day Version of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray
By Rick R. Reed
Paperback: Backinprint ISBN: 0595399169
Amazon Kindle: Bristlecone Press
Author’s website: http://www.rickrreed.com
Image above is the Kindle cover

I first read “The Picture of Dorian Gray” when I was around 13 and really had no idea what kind of debauchery he was getting into (this was the 50’s!), but it nonetheless filled me with creepy, delicious horror. I read it many times in succeeding years and each time I read it, Dorian’s wickedness was clearer. It has remained one of my favorites (the book, not the wickedness).

All too often, when classics are rewritten into a contemporary setting, the result is depressingly unsatisfactory. Happily, award-winning author Rick R. Reed succeeds in recreating the greed and decadence hidden behind the beautiful face of the ageless Dorian who keeps pushing the envelope of evil until he finally goes too far and the devil literally gets his due. Reed achieves the delicate balancing act of being true to Wilde’s tale while putting a patina of his own shivery vision over it, enhancing but never obscuring the original.

His anti-hero is Gary Adrion, an anagram of Dorian Gray, and the cynical Lord Harry Wotten (who was actually my favorite character in Wilde’s book) is transformed into a cynical black drag queen named Lady Henrietta Wotten. Decadent London of the 1890’s becomes decadent Chicago of 2006+. One of the most inventive devices in the book is that of making the painting of Dorian Gray a living, changeable hologram of Gary Adrion. (Wilde would be enchanted by the idea.) The shock at the end when Gary comes face to face with the hideous, evil thing he has become is more stunning than Wilde’s scene in which Dorian saw the painting.

At 196 pages it is proof that Rick Reed doesn’t waste words, that every syllable of every word has a purpose and works toward an effect. He is a gifted, prolific writer, a master of horror and, I expect, would be successful in any genre he chose to put his hand to. Someday soon I hope to read his “Orientation,” which recently won the Eppie Award for Best GLBT Novel of 2008.