Not for the Squeamish

I’m back, after having turned in draft 1 of my project for work. Tonight’s story is disturbing, but well-written: Greg Jenkins’ “Pretty Boy.” A story about a man who loses his face in a fire, I at first dismissed it as a Vanilla Sky redo:

By contrast, his second face, which had quickened pulses, had gone off the scale entirely. That face hadn’t been much of a face at all, but rather the startling lack of a face, the features blasted into a horrific nothingness. No eyebrows, no ears, no nose, no lips. Not a wisp of hair. The skin was a scarred and unnatural pink—not the pink of everyday flesh, but the dislocated pink of clay or plastic or some other nonhuman substance. Two dull slits peered out of the pink . . . morosely . . . bitterly. It was roundly agreed that the second face had been an awful one. More than anyone, Floyd had disliked it, though everyone who saw it disliked it plenty.

Jenkins, however, builds the story to a dark and unexpected climax that’s not anything like the Tom Cruise film. I also noted that he laid a good deal of groundwork for the ending, planting foreshadowing clues throughout the story. I am a big fan of endings that surprise, but also make sense when you look back on the story and see what you missed. In this case, I didn’t see the ending coming because I was too ready to accept the main character’s interpretation of the facts on the table.

It’s challenging to find portions to quote in stories like this because I don’t want to ruin the twist for the reader. However, I will point to one of the key foreshadowing paragraphs — don’t read it if you don’t want me to point at the biggest clue. The main character’s wife, whom he plans to kill, has left him:

To Floyd’s amazement, she had no plans to abandon their home; instead, she’d already taken legal steps to have him flung out. Not having the will or the vigor to combat her, he let her have her way. As part of the process, she took from him most of what he’d had: not just money, stocks and the house, but his weights, baseball cards, fishing rods, even his favorite hunting knife, the one with the lacquered pear wood handle. She had no conceivable use for the more personal items, though maybe, he supposed, her new male friends would find them impressive.

This is not a story for the squeamish, but I think it’s worth reading.


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