Isabelle Holland

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Isabelle Holland

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[I] didn't set out to write about homosexuality [in The Man Without a Face]. I started this book with only the idea of a fatherless boy who experiences with a man some of the forms of companionship and love that have been nonexistent in his life. Because the other side of Charles' dilemma or emotional history arises from his feeling of being both suffocated and rejected by the predominant female influence in his home—his four-times married mother and his older sister. His stepfathers have come and gone too fast for him to do anything but dislike them. Emotionally, Charles has lived his life as an armed camp, hanging onto a shadowy memory of his own father. Hence the revolutionary impact that Justin has on him.

I think I might diverge here and say something that has always interested me about the eternally fascinating subject of love: Into one person's love for another goes much of the love, either present or in default, that has gone, or should have gone, into other relationships. The title, The Man Without a Face, really has two meanings: It refers to the nickname by which Justin is called because of his facial disfigurement; but, on a deeper level, the man without a face is also Charles' father, whom he can barely remember. But Charles has wrapped his memory of his father around himself as a shield against a world that he finds, on the whole, hostile. Behind that shield, Charles is emotionally starved. When Justin steps into his life, he brings three qualities that mythologically as well as psychologically have always been the archetypes of fatherhood: Justin is masculine, he is authoritative, and he is undemonstratively kind. He steps into the vacuum of Charles' emotional life, and the result is cataclysmic.

Now, all of this interested me far more than the almost incidental fact that the book is about love between two people of the same sex. The story could have been about a boy whose deprivations and needs were the exact opposite from Charles'. Given another kind of boy, with another kind of emotional background, the instigator of his youthful love could have been female—as in [Herman Raucher's] Summer of Forty-two. And if that had been the case, how much of the love could have been that of the male child for the missing or inadequate female parent, and how much that of the male adolescent in his first sexual encounter with a female? As with Charles, I don't think it's either-or. I think it's both. (pp. 299-300)

Isabelle Holland, "Tilting at Taboos," in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1973 by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), Vol. XLIX, No. 3, June, 1973, pp. 299-305.

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