In search of those faceless stories

Back facing; face hidden | Source: Anna Kolosyuk

Have you ever tried to picture a face? The way the hair crowns above, the ears give it limitations, the mouth emotion, the nose symmetry, and the eyes life? Take a minute and think about it. I mean really think about it with all these individual facial elements. Now, ask yourself, who’s is it? A parent, child, lover, or someone else you admire? Chances are you’ve pictured the face of a real person and not one made-up.

Writing fiction is somewhat similar. I dread to think how authors conjure up a face out of thin air. It seems so difficult to simply imagine let alone cast with emotions, motivations, and desires. To create a scar on the cheek and give him a past, to give a glisten in the eye and give her emotion, or to place a kite in their hands and give them hope. That, to me, is the beauty of writing fiction.

The author’s detailed description of a fictional character gives them life. As the story progresses you begin to see yourself understand the characters. Your imagination, courtesy of the author’s creativity, becomes so vivid, you seem to know how characters think, feel, and even smell [please tell me I’m not the only one]. You know them in their walk and their talk. You know what makes them tick, their history, and can predict their reactions to future events. You know everything about them, except for one thing in particular.

Think back to the last fiction book you read, can you recall their face? I’m not talking about a Harry Potter or a Percy Jackson, one with representations on the silver screen, but those with just a written description and no cinematic expression.

These written heroes, despite described in absolute detail, are often bereft of a face in one’s imagination. You might be able to imagine them enraged, destitute, joyous, or surprised. You might see the way their mouth widens, their eyes balloon, their cheeks redden, their brow drop, or their jaw jut, but can you put all these individual facial elements into one representable face, one you haven’t seen before? And can you recall that image when you think of a character? Well, I certainly cannot, and that is why I [try to] read fiction.

No matter how hard I concentrate on a character’s traits manifested in the intangible nature of their facial expressions, I just can’t seem to consolidate everything into one image staring back at me as I read. I try as hard as I can and yet I’m left with a scene where emotions are plenty, characters defined in build and attire, setting vivid in color and scale, but faces, faces left blank.

I never understood why Leanardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa was such a monument of art. Why people hailed it as a masterpiece when all it depicted was the smiling face of a seated woman. The beauty of either the painting being drummed up from DaVinci’s imagination or representing several emotions in a single face was never really significant to me. It was only when I read fiction, I realized the ‘art,’ in creating a portrait straight from memory. I had a neighbor who was a skilled artist, she would always sketch the most notable scenes from her favorite TV shows [at the time it was Game Of Thrones, I think]. But all her pieces, while exemplary in detail, always, always lacked a face. I asked her why she would never attempt to draw one. She said because to capture all the details of a single face was difficult, even if tracing it off a sheet. I never understood why, in fact, I remember scoffing at her statement in immature arrogance. Now, I think, I understand why the simplest of eye sparkles, nose shadows, or mouth movements, is so difficult to trace on paper, stroke for stroke. To do so in the confines of our minds proves such an arduous task, I can’t imagine how difficult it is on a canvas.

Why this sudden fascination with a face? Or with fiction? You know, I’m not entirely sure. Recently, I read Khalid Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, and I was just blown away. Every character created, every detail described, ever image painted, and every emotion ignited by Hosseini compelled me to read on, not just the imminent pages, but other books on fiction, where no picture is traced, no events recalled, or no information retold. It taught me — the beauty of every letter, word, sentence, paragraph, chapter, and story conjured up from one’s mind, and relayed to the reader in such pristine detail, is the reason why I suspect, many people read fiction.

I’m not an avid reader of fiction or books at all. I’ve barely read a handful of them, and know nothing to parlay writing themes and narrative structure between authors and styles. I simply decided to pick up books about fictional stories to allow my mind to escape the confines of the four walls and experience human touch in these times of forced isolation. I decided to replace societal conversations and interactions with those fabricated by more creative minds. Even if it were surreal.

The few books that I read, with the pick of the lot being Hosseini's, allowed me to come to terms with, not why people write fiction, but the true struggle of it. The struggle that comes with putting so much detail in the structure of one’s character, their backstory, their motivations, their desires, and their eventual attempt. At the end of the book, the reader often feels like they’ve known the protagonist for years, and oftentimes go back to the book to replay the memories in their head. As if calling a long-lost friend after drifting apart. But for some reason, and this might just be me, something about this recollection is always missing.

*Spoiler alert* for those who haven’t read the book.

For those of you who have read The Kite Runner, you can sense the undying loyalty and genuine love in Hassan’s eyes when he shouts, “For you a thousand times over.” I feel like I can hear it, in the voice of a 12-year old Afghan boy. I remember the first time I heard it, I remember it bouncing between my ears. I feel it echo when Amir reads Hassan’s letter years later, each time he looks at the Polaroid photo, whenever he tries to get close to Sohrab. I can recall the image of Amir, tugging on his victorious red kite with yellow borders, blood dripping down his fingers, and a smile as wide as the ocean. I can recall Baba and Rahim Khan beaming with pride on their roof. I can recall Ali standing at the gates, with his humble smile and his limp of a leg. I can recall Hassan, in absolute glee, running between the Wazir Akbar Khan houses, eyes on the road ahead, and not looking up at the blue kite aloft but descending steadily. I can see it all. Yet for some reason, I cannot recall a single face. To me, this is the beauty of fiction.