The cover of Joe Ponepinto’s collection of dark tales, The Face Maker and Other Stories of Obsession, not only grabbed me by the throat, but continues to throttle me every time I look to it.
Much like his stories.
The picture is a shot of a collection of WWI facial reconstruction casts and masks, created by sculptor, Anna Coleman Ladd. These masks were needed, because plastic surgery had yet come into its own. WWI relied heavily on trench warfare, so, with only the head and shoulders available as a target, it would seem to me, this was a great cause of concern for those who survived their many times traumatic injuries. Our face is our calling card, our identity. What we look at every day in the mirror, and what others look to. How we present ourselves to the world, and to have it so hideously mangled and destroyed can be more traumatic than the injury itself. I always maintain that there is a person “built” for every type of work out there, and in this case, it causes me to well up with emotion that there were people out there who dedicated themselves to helping these damaged soldiers who returned from trench warfare in any way that they could (and still do, sadly, in today’s conflicts, as war continues to ravage our Humanity). What would you do to help someone in your circle of influence? How much would you give up for another? Our first story, “The Face Maker,” drives home this point.
But, all of Mr. Ponepinto’s stories similarly drive home their points, like shafts of steel beneath fingernails. He ventures into the darker circles of human behavior to visit upon his “Host of Unluckies” the logical conclusion to their actions. In all of them are varying degrees of obsession. Several of them might make you uncomfortable, uneasy, cause you to squirm (maybe hit a little too close to home?), but they are meant to do that. If he—or any of us—wrote about the mundane and the dull, where would be the fun in that? We need conflict…struggle. Good against Evil. No one wants to read about watching water boil…unless there’s a body in it…and that’s what these stories present. People writhing in the boiling water of their actions. There’s always plenty of time to turn off that pot before reaching 212 degrees. Plenty of time to ponder whether or not to plunge our—or another’s—hand into that water. Why is it some of us choose to do the unthinkable, the heinous? Who knows, but that many do, give Joe Ponepinto more than enough grist for his mill. I’m not going to go into each and every story…I leave that for you to discover on your own, but my favorite is definitely “The Face Maker” (though “Excerpts from the Diary of the Last Roman Emperor” was the most fascinating to me to read…). It hit me with the raw emotion of those in need…and one man’s journey to fill that need. Yes, I welled up reading it. I hate to see evil done to anyone…but to have another dedicate their life to helping those touched by evil, is truly a redemptive thing.
I also like Mr. Ponepinto’s end notes. They helped “cap” what I’d read; was a nice closure.
I love Mr. Ponepinto’s writing, the artful skill of it. I love his choice of words. How he wields them. These are not the darkest stories out there, but, like looking to roadkill, perhaps, I couldn’t look away because of the delivery of his writing. Powerful, meaty…this is what “keepin’ it real” is all about when you truck within the darker circles of human behavior. I pray none of you go there for real. You might very well end up in Mr. Ponepinto’s next tale….