There are two protagonists in this novel. They have no names. They perhaps do not need names or so Hayes thought while writing this book and maybe he was right. When a reader reads it, he or she does not find the need for them to have names. He is he and she is she and that is all there is to it. The book is a short one – about a doomed love affair and the circumstances surrounding it and not to forget the backdrop where it all happens – Hollywood – right between the glitz and the glamour and the fake lives, so to say.
A screenwriter saves a young woman from drowning. He is living far away from his wife in New York. He is not a great success but has managed by all this while. He is aware of this. He has no connection to speak of to his wife and does not know how he falls for the young woman he saved. All he wanted was to be left alone. The young woman is aware that he is married and she has no concerns about love and is far from its illusions. And yet there is this attraction to this man. The magnetic pull so to say. The story thus takes off and is self-destructive bringing only tragedy in its wake. There is no other way to tell the story but the way Hayes says it – with clear precision and a tight narrative.
Alfred Hayes says something in such few words. I think the same thing would be said by other writers in so many words, almost so many pages. He possessed such an uncanny skill to not only say it the way it was, but to make the reader merge with his prose and become one for that read. He never names his characters and yet there are only so common in Hollywood, wanting not to be just another face.
The man and the woman’s conversations and meetings are the crux of the story. Their lives are chronicled smoothly by Hayes. For instance, the man has been married for fifteen years and this is brought to fore when the woman tells him, she was only eight when he got married. A stark observation such as this becomes magical in the writing of Alfred Hayes.
What I like about the book the most is the fact that the reader is aware that it will not end on a happy note, and yet the urge to keep reading. The power of prose surpasses everything I suppose. The turning point of the story is in Tijuana – where the true faces of both characters are splendidly brought out. There are no perspectives in the book. There is no judgement. There is the storyteller with a story to say. “My Face for the World to See” is a book about love, about choices that we sometimes make and sometimes do not know how they were made, and above all it is about loneliness, life and what we make of it.