spell of tone, offering only enough information so that the reader’s imagination can do the otherwise impossible work of grasping the violence, horror, and estrangement of Cara’s predicament: They have arranged the dressing to yield on cue, like an important unveiling. “And here, Gentlemen, after almost two months…” \(he bandage lifts, the sunlight of morning stabs his eyes. To him, their intake of breath is like a roar. When has he heard this sound? at his birth? at his death? I saw the angel in the heavens and the sound of the great trumpet came to me. When? “We have the face of Senhor Helio Cara!” Who is he? Who has become, with his name,of a stranger? “Yes, Cara. The irony is not lost on you, I see.” But already he has held his breath too long. He feels the hot tears. And hears the voice: “Never has this service seen such an injury…” and the swallowed giggles of the medical students, standing at white starched attention, suppressing the whispering of their linen, “…such an injury.” Abandoned by the public healthcare system which saved his life but deemed the completion of the job “cosmetic?’ rejected by lover and neighbors, let go from his employ at the barbershop where he had worked for years, Cara burrows ever deeper underground, rooting through trash bins to feed himself, living by night to minimize encounters with human society. Not incidentally, I suspect, Pineda hurls Cara into a world marginalized on every level imaginable. The third world stage of the Whale Back slum speaks for itself with its shacks “tumbling [and] scrambling like clumsy, eyeless dwarves,” its gutters running black with slime. As though adding insult to injury, it is this beleaguered society that rejects Cara cannot tolerate his existence, wills him into invisibility. Eventually society’s relentless denial bears fruit, and Cara discovers a dark self whose brutal nature rivals the severity of his physical disfigurement. Cara’s attempt to regain his humanity, then, becomes an obsession with remaking his face. After failing to receive help from the medical system, Cara retreats to his birthplace. It is in that rural hinterland where, almost out of money and entirely alone, he quite literally takes matters into his own hands. Metaphors abound in the insanely courageous and desperate act of self-determination that ensues. We might question the believability of Cara’s undertaking, but that would be to miss the point. Additionally, Pineda’s surprising use of medical explication in this existential narrative offers just enough concrete detail to assuage anxieties over verisimilitude \(and, earlier on, provides some chilling clues to the nature For me, these final chapters of self-reconstruction were gripping almost to the point of being hallucinatory. Credit goes to Pineda’s masterful control ‘over language and the choices she makes to conceal rather than reveal. Reading Face is an unsettling and thoughtprovoking experience \(and an endeavor that, for all its effect, can be accomplished a masterful example of why authors should allow themselves to trust their readers. It is also a powerful testament to what can happen when brilliantly crafted language meets a receptive mind. Face is a book that imperceptibly cues your imagination. Don’t be surprised if your own response mirrors that of Cara at the end of the novel. As Pineda writes of her unsettling protagonist, “He has imagined this meeting over and over, has elaborated its circumstances. But when it actually happens to him, it is unlike anything he could have foreseen?’ Lee Middleton is finishing her M.A. in Creative Writing at UT-Austin. 4/9/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29
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