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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

My Face for the World to See

Alfred Hayes

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To purchase My Face for the World to See

Title: My Face for the World to See
Author: Alfred Hayes
Genre: Novel
Written: 1958
Length: 135 pages
Availability: My Face for the World to See - US
My Face for the World to See - UK
My Face for the World to See - Canada
Une jolie fille comme ça - France
Alles für ein bisschen Ruhm - Deutschland
Il mio viso davanti a voi - Italia
Que el mundo me conozca - España
  • With an Introduction by David Thomson

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nice, small novel of failed Hollywood (and other) dreams

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 6/8/2013 Nicholas Lezard
Harper's . 12/2020 David L. Ulin
London Rev. of Books . 18/7/2019 Lucie Elven
New Statesman . 5/9/2013 Leo Robson
The NY Rev. of Books . 23/3/2021 Vivian Gornick
The NY Times Book Rev. . 2/2/1958 Lenard Kaufman
The Spectator . 14/2/1958 Francis Wyndham
Sunday Times . 9/2/1958 Penelope Mortimer
The Times . 13/2/1958 .
TLS . 14/2/1958 Alan Ross
TLS . 15/3/2019 Mark Thompson

  From the Reviews:
  • "(T)his thin but incredibly sinewy novel. It is 130 pages long, feeling as though it has been whittled down to a size that can barely support its own weight; or as if it is a brief cry with, on either side, two eternities of silence. (...) In fact, all the prose here is very carefully weighted. The sentences, outside the book's dialogue, are packed with commas and careful qualifications, the way you would write if you wanted to make sure that every possibility of nuance or interpretation had been scrupulously attended to." - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

  • "Each of Hayes's protagonists talks a good game: charming, a little elusive, acknowledging minor lapses to avoid having to examine the larger ones. They pretend to want love but mostly keep their distance; they play at self-knowledge, yet self-deflection is more what they desire." - David L. Ulin, Harper's

  • "(T)iny, pleasingly written. (...) In Hayes’s rendering, presumably derived from first-hand mental note-taking, Hollywood instils a feeling of 'insatiety'." - Leo Robson, New Statesman

  • "In 1958 Hayes published My Face for the World to See, an even deadlier take on his particular brand of lost souls." - Vivian Gornick, The New York Review of Books

  • "Alfred Hayes's new novel is sufficiently like its brilliant predecessor, In Love, not to disappoint his admirers, and just different enough to avoid the accusation of being a repeat performance. (...) The story is more terrifying than In Love, but being more specialised, more firmly localised on the West Coast, it lacks the uncanny universality which the other book achieved." - Francis Wyndham, The Spectator

  • "This novel suffers in comparison with In Love, but it is still remarkably moving." - Penelope Mortimer, Sunday Times

  • "My Face for the World to See is a most able study in ironical self-analysis, very bitter and simple. Mr. Hayes disciplines himself to direct exposition and lucid prose" - The Times

  • "Mr. Hayes, as a novelist, gets quickly to the point: he believes in the short, sharp jab to the heart. (...) He has a fluent narrative style, a swift economy; in short, he does not bore with irrelevancy, a talent that is as rare as it is delightful. All the same, his novel, brutal though it is in impact, suffers from the pointlessness that is its truth. (...) It is a pitiable, terrible and inconclusive little tale." - Alan Ross, Times Literary Supplement

  • "The management of his self-knowledge is exquisite, down to the punctuation." - Mark Thompson, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       As in In Love, My Face for the World to See features a nameless narrator around forty, who gets involved with a woman in her mid-twenties. He has a wife and kid back in New York, but he's working as a screenwriter in Hollywood; the marriage hasn't collapsed, but he certainly doesn't feel the fire any more -- especially in the bedroom. At a party he saves a drunk girl from drowning in the ocean, and when she calls to thank him he invites her out, quickly drifting into a relationship he's not quite sure he wants.
       She is very pretty, but that's not enough in Hollywood, and, after five years in town, she is still struggling. She escaped her hometown, but has barely carved out a place of her own in the big city.

She'd come because of, more or less, the usual compulsions: "my face for the world to see," she said
       But the compulsion alone isn't enough, as she continues to battle her own demons, too. She's quit drinking, understanding that she sinks too easily into the escape of alcohol. She sees a therapist, too. Worst of all, she lacks self-confidence, and it shows -- fatally so, the narrator understands, in this tough town.
       The narrator describes waking next to her one morning, she: "grinding her teeth in some obscure anguish" -- but it's her that flees the bed when he drifts off again, telling him later (to his surprise) that he: "screamed out, several times; and cursed; and then, once, you began to cry". He's the one writing the story, and his focus remains on her, but it's clear he's battling his own demons, too. "There must be someone, or something, you hate very much", she recognizes -- even if she can't see it for the self-loathing it is.
       He takes her to see the bullfights in Tijuana, and she's overcome by the horror of it -- but she forces herself to stick it out. Apparently believing that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, she pleads:
"I'll get used to it, won't I ?" she said. "If I keep watching ? You get used to it, don't you ?"
       It sounds like something she's been telling herself all her life, and that it's eaten away at her so that much that there's only a shell of a human being left.
       They get along -- "She discovered I was kind, and that she liked being with me" -- but true feeling and love loom only as complications. He's married, after all -- and he has his own issues. When he asks her: "You're not falling in love ?" she does reassure him that she's not -- but not before noting:
     "You say it so grimly."
     "It's a grim subject."
       From the beginning, it's unclear -- to him, to her, to the reader -- whether or not her almost drowning was accidental or a suicide attempt, and though she tries to steel herself against whatever the world throws at her her nerves still get the better of her. The narrator tries to be supportive, but he has other obligations too; the gulf separating them is too great -- and, of course, ultimately it all falls apart.
       He focuses on her struggles, but all the while he's struggling too. He knows exactly what he's saying when she asks whether he's writing at one of the studios:
I said I wasn't, really; I was writhing.
       And he admits:
I'd always found it impossible to tell the truth about my marriage. I exaggerated, and I wanted to avoid exaggeration; everything emerged, somehow, falsified. I knew that what I said wasn't quite the way I said it was. There were justifications omitted, and motives left out. When I was bitter, later the bitterness sounded false.
       He's admitting to his unreliableness as a narrator, and there's no reason to think the same doesn't extend to the story his recounting here. He wants to be forthright -- but the most honest moments are the ones he's barely aware of, screaming, cursing, crying in his sleep.
       The clinical dissection of the girl who can't quite make it -- with an overlay of actual feeling for her that he can't quite suppress -- is an impressive piece of writing. Hayes' expression is strong, direct, but also often beautifully turned, and this is another compact work of fiction that seems just the right size for its story. Hayes can't round it off as easily as he does In Love -- the narrator's wife and daughter are complicating (non-)presences that unbalance the inevitable conclusion -- but it's still a strong, affecting work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 November 2013

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My Face for the World to See: Reviews: Alfred Hayes: Other books by Alfred Hayes under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       English-born American author and screenwriter Alfred Hayes lived 1911 to 1985.

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© 2013-2021 the complete review

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