Michael J. Seidlinger has reached a strange point in his career where readers who are familiar with his work find themselves trapped in a space that possesses a strange duality: every new book is better than the last, but it’s also probably not as outstanding as the next one will be. For example, with The Laughter of Strangers he broke new ground in terms of identity explorations in fiction and pushed the boundaries of what a single/disembodied voice could accomplish in a narrative. Now, with The Face of Any Other, Seidlinger starts at the new boundaries he’d previously set and rushes forward in a way that makes it clear he sees nothing but new ground in front of him.
The Face of Any Other follows a man without a face, an entity with the power to invade the lives of others and become them for a time. More than a place to stay, he is looking for an interesting time and an opportunity to effect some change. The man, who acts like a virus, doesn’t remember his past and has no clear plans for the future, so he is content with exploring the endless variety of fears out there, feasting on the flaws of those he invades, and acting on their behalf. As a man with no identity, he is every man and woman out there, but that lack of identity does not equal a lack of desires and feelings, so when a woman notices him when he’s not inside someone else, the man becomes obsessed. What follows is a bizarre love story where one man can be everyone except the person he wants to be the most.
By working with a truly original concept, Seidlinger was able to construct a narrative that belongs to no single genre but instead borrows elements from a plethora of them. The prose constantly shifts from philosophical meanderings to voyeuristic trances and everything in between, all while framed in a story that’s a psychological thriller and a tale about infatuation as much as it is a horror story and a smart deconstruction of all other narratives about twenty-somethings looking for their place in life.
“When you have the face of any other, you are confronted with the understanding that death is present throughout our entire lives. It remains near, the inevitable book-end to the open book of a person’s life story. It waits, more patiently with some, while others it takes a liking to their pulse. You can hear it.
Every beat is one less to be dealt.”
The Face of Any Other is gritty and voyeuristic, but its main character is also a bit sad and his disembodied state exemplifies our eagerness for change and the way we sometimes feel trapped in our bodies. Seidlinger’s work has often dealt with identity, and this narrative holds all he has learned in the process. By jumping from person to person, the protagonist takes readers on a journey that ends up being one of the most complete, brutally honest, and nuanced explorations of human nature. The man who invades us is both observer and mirror, and what he sees is what we try to hide; what he finds inside us is the stuff we try to cover up with masks.
The Face of Any Other is about love and being, but it’s also about frustration, obsession, truth, and the nature of desire. Michael J. Seidlinger is one of the bravest and most original voices in contemporary fiction, and this is yet another example of how he is willing to explore new ways of telling stories.
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of ZERO SAINTS (Broken River Books), HUNGRY DARKNESS (Severed Press), and GUTMOUTH (Eraserhead Press). His reviews have appeared in Electric Literature, The Rumpus, 3AM Magazine, Marginalia, The Collagist. Heavy Feather Review, Crimespree, Out of the Gutter, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, HorrorTalk, Verbcide, and many other print and online venues. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.