Forgotten Book: Fat Face by Michael Shea (1997)

Would you trust this face? Maybe not such a good idea.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 158th in my series of Forgotten Books.

I first discovered the work of Michael Shea in 1980 when I read “The Autopsy” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It was grisly and mesmerizing. He had published one earlier novel A Quest for Simbilis in 1974 as a homage/sequel to Jack Vance’s The Eyes of the Overworld but I had not read that. Shortly thereafter I read “Polyphemus” in F&SF and knew I had found a masterful writer.

I discovered H. P. Lovecraft in 1967 with one of the Lancer collections of short stories (probably The Dunwich Horror, but I’m not sure anymore) and had my fling with Lovecraftian horror for the next ten years, including a brief stint in a Lovecraft amateur press association (APA) called The Esoteric Order of Dagon. I stayed there for three or four mailings and found that a) there were people with much deeper devotions to Lovecraft, Howard, Smith and Hodgson than I would ever have, b) they produced some amazing scholarship and 3) as a working student I did not have the time, money or energy to continue in that environment.

But the love still stays.

So, in 1987 when Fat Face came out from Axoltotl Press in a limited edition, I picked it up. A Lovecraftian horror story by a master is always worth your time. And it was.

Michael Shea won a couple of World Fantasy Awards for the novel Nifft the Lean (1983) and novella for The Growlimb in 2006 and was nominated for a lot of awards. He was always on my radar. So I was shocked last year when he died suddenly. And now I wanted to read something again.

So Fat Face, a novella stared out of my bookshelf at me. Michael Shea and Lovecraftian horror with a Shea sensibility seemed like a winner. It began calling to me at night. “Scott!” It said. “Read me! Or Face My WRATH!!”

Not wanting to face that wrath, I read it again the other night. It’s short, which is a definite plus. And it does not read like a Lovecraftian piece. There are no words like eldritch or ichor or even blasphemous in the story.

It’s the story of Patti, a young hooker who is out of her depth. Her man has moved out of the massage parlor when she objected to how some of her customers found themselves dead shortly after a visit. So, she is back on the streets, working out of a seedy motel. She’s OK with that, maybe even bored.

A fancy gift for any Shea enthusiast: The Autopsy and Other Stories.

She and her friend Sherri keep trying to imagine what it would be like to be gone and away from it all, but that takes too much energy so she continues on. She knows all the street regulars, all losers. And she is fascinated by a man she can only see from his fourth floor window. She calls him Fat Face, but that is not meant harshly. She finds his face calming, even beatific. She imagines him as an angelic figure. The building houses an animal rescue, so he must be a good man.

She and Sherri make a bad move one day, leaving him something approaching a friend letter, not quite a love letter. But it brings his interest to them and bad things begin to happen.

If you want more, the novella is generally available. There is a Kindle version for less than a buck, and it is in several collections.

Now, if you are a Michael Shea fan, you can look for The Autopsy and Other Tales (2008) from Centipede Press. This is a beautiful book, signed, numbered, heavily illustrated and a massive collection of Shea which also includes his novel The Color Out of Time, another Lovecraftian tale worth your while. Unfortunately this one is out of print and, since it was expensive to begin with, copies are pricey. But, man, it is worth it.

So, some brief words to live by. Check out Michael Shea. Check out The Autopsy and Other Tales. Check out Centipede Press. You will not go wrong.

And, as regularly stated, my taste is all in my mouth and your mileage may vary.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.