The Face and Why It’s More Favorite than All of the Other Reindeer

I adore books in general. Particularly Dean Koontz books.

Cover of "The Face: A Novel"

The cover, in all its awesome glory.

One of them, in particular, will always stick out in my mind, though. That’s right. Unlike many bookworms, I have one absolute favorite book. It’s called The Face. One of Dean Koontz’s less-known titles, it seems. And it’s sad, because it’s better. It’s best.

Why?

Because, in a world where people are pressured to spend all their money on expensive cars, houses, plastic surgery, cosmetics, designer clothes and hairdressers, it’s something for us normal people out there. For those of us who’ve ever wanted to be rich and famous, it’s a slap-in-the-face look at the reality of it.

Once upon a distant, less enlightened time, my dream was to be a movie star. Rich and famous and beautiful. In fact, that wish was what drew me to The Face, due to the first sentence of the summary on the back: “He’s Hollywood’s biggest star.” Images instantly filled my young, impressionable mind of glamour and glory, beauty and glitz. Adventure. All the things the rich people have, of course.

Well, not so much. That sentence refers to Channing Manheim, the gorgeous bachelor action star who’s an American household name. He’s capable of stirring emotions like no other. He lives in a huge mansion named Palazzo Rospo in Beverly Hills. He has a huge garage full of expensive cars, a gigantic library, four floors worth of priceless antiques, a swimming pool, a rose garden, a room full of train sets, a cavernous wine cellar, and a fantastic staff. He spends his time away from home making multimillion dollar movies and hanging around some of the most beautiful people in the world. That’s the life, right?

Well, meet Manheim’s son. Ten-year-old Aelfric. A small, skinny kid with messy hair and severe asthma born to Manheim’s supermodel ex-wife, Freddie Nielander. Fric sees his parents so often that he refers to them in his own mind as Nominal Mom and Ghost Dad. It’s through Fric that we see the real Channing Manheim.

Of course the guy isn’t perfect, even if he’s a Hollywood god. Everyone has problems. He was probably bullied as a kid, right?

Well, the library is only there to wow visitors. To make people think they have something in common with him. The cars are never driven. The trains would sit and gather dust, if not for the attention of the staff and Fric’s own interest in them. When the man himself is in residence, there are often wild parties, and always a new girlfriend.

And Fric leads a charmed life, of course. He gets everything he ever wanted. Why, his father sent him out with an interior decorator and fifty thousand dollars to refurnish his suite of rooms. Movie companies send him all the newest children’s movies. He has a private tutor and gets to roam the huge house, doing whatever he wants. He even has his own home phone line.

And we can’t forget about Christmas. Fric gets everything he asks for. Even if he were to ask for a Porsche. But never any surprise in the matter. He has to write a Dear Santa format list every year and give it to the housekeeper. Daddy’s orders. If it’s any shorter than the list from last year he has to add things to it, and he gets exactly what he asked for. No surprises. Ever. Oh, sure, the gifts are wrapped all nice and pretty, but where’s the fun when you know what’s in each one of them?

To put it together, here we have the portrait of a man who, to paraphrase Mr. Koontz, believes nobody else has anything more to them than a half-page of back story, and who is benignly certain the universe and him regard each other with equal amounts of fascination.

But, though he’s the title character (it’s a title the media has bestowed upon him), Manheim isn’t the protagonist. In fact, he never even makes an appearance.

No, the protagonist is his chief of security, ex-cop Ethan Truman, who quit the police force after his wife died of cancer. The book is about Ethan trying to figure out who’s threatening his employer, and simultaneously figure out the mystery of an old friend’s death.

This book is a masterpiece, in short. Something beautiful to make me laugh and cry—sometimes at the same time. The villain is quirky and almost likable at times. All the characters feel incredibly real. It’s creepy, it’s funny, it’s heartbreaking and it’s wonderful. So do yourself a favor and go check it out, because I said so.

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