Face of a Hero, by Louis Falstein – 1951 (Al Schmidt)

The two images below, of the first (1950) edition (Harcourt, Brace and Company) of Face of A Hero, show the book’s front cover / spine, and title page, the latter including an illustration of an aviator’s flight helmet, goggles, and oxygen mask.  

The book’s cover combined and is limited to two fundamental elements: one symbolic – a human face; the other quite “real” – a formation of six B-24 Liberator bombers under attack by two enemy fighter planes.  Though the novel’s general setting is, of course, the WW II air war against Germany,  it’s intriguing that the cover art is set upon varying tones of red, rather than cooler “aerial” shades of blue, gray, and white.

Though the artist’s name is not presented on either the cover or within the book itself, stylistically, the human face at least seems to be reminiscent of the work of Ben Shahn…  (Well, maybe!)

It occurred to me I must write to Ruth, but I didn’t know what to tell her.
A subtle wall was being erected between my wife and me
because we had not shared this experience.
I realized with a shock that my wife was a civilian, safe back in the States.
And I suddenly resented those who were safe.
I was appalled at the ease with which I abandoned myself to self-pity
even in my hour of triumph.
But aside from the corrupting but very comfortable stabs of self-pity
there was no denying that my most profound experience had been shared with me
not by Ruth but by nine comparative strangers.
They were now a part of my life, part of my joys and sorrows.
We had not chosen one another as brothers; it had been ordained for us.
Mel Ginn, a rancher from western Texas, was my brother.
I didn’t know much about him and he was suspicious of me because I came from a large city.
He was amused by my clumsiness with the guns.
He was puzzled that an “old man” had got himself mixed up in the fighting.
Mel had never met a Jew before and this confused him also.
Before our first mission we had little to say to each other.
But today we had been through life together.
Before our first mission Leo Trent and I had little in common.
Leo used to sell perfume in Hollywood before the war.
His heart had been set on becoming a pilot,
but he had been washed out of cadet training “three hours before graduation.”
That was his story.
It rankled that his younger brother, who was twenty-one, two years Leo’s junior,
was an ace Marine fighter pilot in the Pacific while Leo became a “venereal gunner.”
He was not a good gunner (this we had in common),
and up in the air I saw him paralyzed with fear (this too we had in common).
Leo and I had never become close,
perhaps because we each knew the other to be a coward who resented being found out.
That’s why he was wary of me.
He credited me with an insight that always sat in judgment on his weaknesses.
Also, he mistook my aloofness for snobbery.
He did not like riddles.
But I wanted him to like me.
He was, after all, my brother. (p 30)

______________________________

The images below are of the 1951 Pocket Books edition of Face of A Hero, featuring cover art by Al Schmidt. 


Would Andy laugh at me if I told him I was in this war because I wanted to keep America free?
I wanted to tell him I was in it not only because I was against Hitler;
I was also for something.
I was convinced that after we won it, life would be better for all.
People would get along better;
not only Missourians and Illinoisians,
but Italians and Americans too…
But how do you tell these things to a frightened man, a man facing death?
I was afraid Andy would laugh at me.
Americans had an ingrained suspicion of words, any words smacking of patriotism.

Andy sat silent for a while, contemplating the pebbles on the tent floor.
“Oh, I’ll fly my missions,” he said.
“I’m no better or no worse than anybody else.
I certainly wouldn’t pull a stunt like Bowles pulled yesterday,
shooting off his toe and claiming it was an accident.
I wouldn’t do a thing like that, nobody in our crew would.”
He regarded me searchingly to see whether I believed him.
He got up and went to sit on his cot.
“Oh, I don’t know,” the navigator sighed.
“It’s all mixed up in my mind.
In one way I feel I’m a sucker for being in this.
In another way I feel useless.
I’m supposed to be a navigator.
The army spent a fortune to train me.
But do I navigate?
I’m just a passenger in the ship, while the lead navigator does all the work.
You men could fly without me.
It wouldn’t be so bad if I had a gun to fire.
You don’t know what it means to be shot at and not shoot back.
You’re helpless, useless.
You go crazy.
If I could only keep busy in the air –
maybe I wouldn’t have the time to worry so much about death…”
He slapped his thighs savagely
and stood up and walked to the cone-shaped entrance of the tent.
“I don’t know what to think.
I’ve never been so mixed up and so scared in my life…”  (109-110)

______________________________

The image below – a portrait of Louis Falstein posing against a “backdrop” of a B-24 Liberator’s fuselage – was scanned from a photographic print.  It’s unknown if this picture was taken during his training in the continental United States, or later, at the 450th Bomb Group’s base at Manduria, Italy. 

Most likely, the former. 

Notably, this is the same image of Louis Falstein that appeared (albeit highly cropped!) as the cover of the 1999 Steerforth Press edition of Face of a Hero.  The novel’s re-publication that year generated much commentary concerning the book’s similarities to – and striking differences from – Joseph Heller’s stunningly over-rated embodiment of literary mediocrity (and, ironic commercial and cultural success) otherwise known as “Catch-22.

______________________________

The portrait below, showing Lou in more peaceful times, appears on the jacket of the first edition of Face of A Hero.

Mr. Sammler’s Planet, by Saul Bellow – (1969) 1977 (Roy Ellsworth)

And since he had lasted –
survived –
with a sick headache –
he would not quibble over words –
was there an assignment implicit? 
Was he meant to do something?

______________________________

Through Fifteenth Street ran a warm spring current.
Lilacs and sewage.
There were as yet no lilacs,
but an element of the savage gas was velvety and sweet,
reminiscent of blooming lilac.
All about was a softness of perhaps dissolved soot,
or of air passed through many human breasts,
or metabolized in multitudinous brains,
or released from as many intestines, and it got to one – oh, deeply, too!   
Now and then there came an appreciative or fanciful pleasure,
apparently inconsequent,
suggested by the ruddy dun of sandstone, by cool corners of the warmth.
Bliss from his surroundings!
For a certain period Mr. Sammler had resisted such physical impressions –
being wooed almost comically by momentary and fortuitous sweetness.
For quite a long time he had felt that he was not necessarily human.
Had no great use, during that time, for most creatures.
Very little interest in himself.
Cold even to the thought of recovery.
What was there to recover?  Little regard for earlier forms of himself.
Disaffected.
His judgment almost blank.
But then, ten or twelve years after the war, he became aware that this too was changing.
In the human setting, along with everyone else,
among particulars of ordinary life he was human –
and, in short, creatureliness crept in again.
Its low tricks, its doggish hind-sniffing charm.
So that now, really, Sammler didn’t know how to take himself.
He wanted, with God, to be free from the bondage of the ordinary and the finite.
A soul released from Nature, from impressions, and from everyday life.
For this to happen God Himself must be waiting, surely.
And a man who has been killed and buried should have no other interest.
He should be perfectly disinterested.
Eckhardt said in so many words that God loved disinterested purity and unity.
God Himself was drawn toward the disinterested soul.
What besides the spirit should a man care for who has come back from the grave?
However, and mysteriously enough, it happened,
as Sammler observed, that one was always, and so powerfully, so persuasively,
drawn back to human conditions.
So that these flecks within one’s substance
would always stipple with their reflections all that a man turns toward, all that flows about him.
The shadow of his nerves would always cast stripes,
like trees on grass, like water over sand, the light-made network.
It was a second encounter of the disinterested spirit with fated biological necessities,
a return match with the persistent creature.
(116-119)

Perhaps it was the madness of things that affected Sammler most deeply.
The persistence, the maniacal push of certain ideas,
themselves originally stupid, stupid ideas that had lasted for centuries,
this is what drew the most curious reactions from him.
The stupid sultanism of a Louis Quatorze reproduced in General de Gaulle –
Neo-Charlemagne, someone said.
Or the imperial ambition of the Czars in the Mediterranean.
They wanted to be the dominant naval power in the Mediterranean,
a stupid craving of two centuries, and this,
under the “revolutionary” auspices of the Kremlin, was still worked at,
in the same way – worked at!
Did it make no difference that soon floating dominion by armed ships would be as obsolete as Ashurbanipal,
as queer as the dog-headed gods of Egypt?
Why, no, it made no difference.
No more than the disappearance of Jews from Poland made a difference to the anti-Semitism of the Poles.
This was the meaning of historical stupidity.
And the Russians also, with their national tenacity.
Give them a system, let them grasp some idea,
and they would plunge to the depths with it,
they would apply it to the end, pave the whole universe with hard idiot material.

Sammler, from keeping his own counsel for so long,
from seven decades of internal consultation, had his own views on most matters.
And even the greatest independence was insufficient, still not enough.
And there were mental dry courses in his head, of no interest to anyone else,
perhaps – wadis, he believed such things were called,
small ravines made by the steady erosion of preoccupations.
The taking of life was one of these.
Just that.
His life had nearly been taken.
He had seen life taken.
He had taken it himself.
He knew it was one of the luxuries.
No wonder princes had so long reserved the right to murder with impunity.
At the very bottom of society there was also a kind of impunity,
because no one cared what happened.
Under that dark brutal mass blood crimes were often disregarded.
And at the very top, the ancient immunities of kings and nobles.
Sammler thought that this was what revolutions were really about.
In a revolution you took away the privileges of an aristocracy and redistributed them.
What did equality mean?
Did it mean all men were friends and brothers?
No, it meant that all belonged to the elite.
(142-145)

And all this will continue.
It will simply continue.
Another six billion years before the sun explodes.
Six billion years of human life!
It lames the heart to contemplate such a figure.
Six billion years!
What will become of us?
Of the other species, yes, and of us?
How will we ever make it?
And when we have to abandon the earth, and leave this solar system for another,
what a moving-day that will be.
But by then humankind will have become very different.
Evolution continues.
Olaf Stapledon reckoned that each individual in future ages would be living thousands of years.
The future person, a colossal figure, a beautiful green color,
with a hand that had evolved into a kit of extraordinary instruments, tools strong and subtle,
thumb and forefinger capable of exerting thousands of pounds of pressure.
Each mind belonging to a marvelous analytical collective, thinking out its mathematics,
its physics as part of a sublime whole.
A race of semi-immortal giants, our green descendants, dear kin and brethren,
inevitably containing still some of our bitter peculiarities as well as powers of spirit.
The scientific revolution was only three hundred years old.
Give it a million, give it a billion more.
And God?  Still hidden, even from this powerful mental brotherhood, still out of reach? 
(190-191)

“During the war I had no belief, and I had always disliked the ways of the Orthodox.
I saw that God was not impressed by death.
Hell was his indifference.
But inability to explain is no ground for disbelief.
Not as long as the sense of God persists.
I could wish that it did not persist.
The contradictions are so painful.
No concern for justice?
Nothing of pity?
Is God only the gossip of the living?
Then we watch these living speed like birds over the surface of a water,
and one will dive or plunge but not come up again and never be seen any more.
And in our turn we will never be seen again,
once gone through that surface.
But then we have no proof that there is no depth under the surface.
We cannot even say that our knowledge of death is shallow.
There is no knowledge.
There is longing, suffering, mourning.
These come from need, affection, and love –
the needs of the living creature, because it is a living creature.
There is also strangeness, implicit.
There is also adumbration.
Other states are sensed.
All is not flatly knowable.
There would never have been any inquiry without this adumbration,
there would never have been any knowledge without it.
But I am not life’s examiner, or a connoisseur, and I have nothing to argue.
Surely a man would console, if he could.
But that is not an aim of mine.
Consolers cannot always be truthful.
But very often, and almost daily, I have strong impressions of eternity.
This may be due to my strange experiences, or to old age.
I will say that to me this does not feel elderly.
Nor would I mind if there were nothing after death.
If it is only to be as it was before birth, why should one care?
There one would receive no further information.
One’s ape restiveness would stop.
I think I would miss mainly my God adumbrations in the many daily forms.
Yes, that is what I should miss.
So then, Dr. Lai, if the moon were advantageous for us metaphysically, I would be completely for it.
As an engineering project, colonizing outer space,
except for the curiosity, the ingenuity of the thing,
is of little real interest to me.
Of course the drive, the will to organize this scientific expedition must be one of those irrational necessities that make up life –
this life we think we can understand.
So I suppose we must jump off, because it is our human fate to do so.
If it were a rational matter, then it would be rational to have justice on this planet first.
Then, when we had an earth of saints, and our hearts were set upon the moon,
we could get in our machines and rise up …”
(236-237)

Margotte had much to say.
She did not notice his silence.

By coming back, by preoccupation with the subject,
the dying, the mystery of dying, the state of death.
Also, by having been inside death.
By having been given the shovel and told to dig.
By digging beside his digging wife.
When she faltered he tried to help her.
By this digging, not speaking, he tried to convey something to her and fortify her.
But as it had turned out, he had prepared her for death without sharing it.
She was killed, not he.
She had passed the course, and he had not.
The hole deepened, the sand clay and stones of Poland, their birthplace, opened up.
He had just been blinded, he had a stunned face,
and he was unaware that blood was coming from him
till they stripped and he saw it on his clothes.
When they were as naked as children from the womb,
and the hole was supposedly deep enough, the guns began to blast,
and then came a different sound of soil.
The thick fall of soil.
A ton, two tons, thrown in.
A sound of shovel-metal, gritting.
Strangely exceptional, Mr. Sammler had come through the top of this.
It seldom occurred to him to consider it an achievement.
Where was the achievement?  He had clawed his way out.
If he had been at the bottom, he would have suffocated.
If there had been another foot of dirt.
Perhaps others had been buried alive in that ditch.
There was no special merit, there was no wizardry.
There was only suffocation escaped.
And had the war lasted a few months more, he would have died like the rest.
Not a Jew would have avoided death.
As it was, he still had his consciousness, earthliness, human actuality –
got up, breathed his earth gases in and out, drank his coffee,
consumed his share of goods, ate his roll from Zabar’s, put on certain airs –
all human beings put on certain airs – took the bus to Forty-second Street
as if he had an occupation, ran into a black pickpocket.
In short, a living man.
Or one who had been sent back again to the end of the line.
Waiting for something.
Assigned to figure out certain things, to condense, in short views,
some essence of experience, and because of this having a certain wizardry ascribed to him.
There was, in fact, unfinished business.
But how did business finish?
We entered in the middle of the thing and somehow became convinced that we must conclude it.
How? 

And since he had lasted –
survived –
with a sick headache –
he would not quibble over words –
was there an assignment implicit? 
Was he meant to do something?
(272-274)

– Saul Bellow –

Gentleman’s Agreement, by Laura Z. Hobson – 1947 (Tom Lovell)

The tires squeaked against the snow.  As the car stopped, a smiling page boy in green opened the door for him, spotted the suitcase, and lugged it out, asking, “Skis, sir?”  Phil shook his head and nodded to the driver.  The car drove off.  Behind, a door opened heavily, and Phil turned.  His peripheral vision told him a man was waiting in the open door, but he stood still and looked about him with interest.  Sprawling, faced with half logs, smoke rising bluely at half a dozen massive stone chimneys, the inn sent off its instant message of being expensive, comfortable, and what was meant by the word “smart,” which blanketed a thousand variables.  At one side, along its shallow depth, was a porch studded with more of the bright raw colors of mittens and scarves and caps, restless with movement as skis were scraped and rubbed and waxed.  Everywhere was the smell of new snow, the stretching whiteness, the crunch of boots through the glazed top surface to the hardness below.  It would have been a calm and happy place for him to bring Kathy in their first living together.

Abruptly, he turned toward the front door.  The man waiting there gave a pleasant half salute and called out, “How do?” in the rising, puzzled tone of somebody expecting nobody, but not perturbed by the unexpected.  His face was pale, his hair thick and gray; he was as tall as Phil, middle-yeared, not homely, not handsome.  He wore grayish tweeds, with a plaid wool shirt, an island of color and impudence in his general indefiniteness.

“How do,” Phil said.  “The desk right ahead?”

“Just inside.  Driving through?”

“No, I came by air.”  He went past him, into a large lounge.  The registration desk was at his left, and he turned to it, but his snapshot picture of the place had already given him the blazing fireplace, the deep chairs, the beams overhead.  Behind the counter the tall man was gently pushing forward a leather-cornered pad with a registration card slotted into it, saying affably, “I hope it won’t be for too many days, but with one bag and no skis – ”

“I have reservations,” Phil said, and took the pen angled toward him from its plastic base.  “For a double room and bath, today through Thursday.”

He wrote, “Philip -”

“Reservations?  In what name?”  There was a stiffening all over him, mouth, voice, the arms on the counter.

Phil wrote, “S. Green” and his address.  Then he said, “Green.  My wife will get here tomorrow.”

“The Mr. Green who – ”

“Yes,” Phil said.  “You’re Mr. Calkins, the owner?”  He didn’t wait for the nod.  He pulled out his wallet, opened it without haste, took out the telegram, laid it on the desk, and set the wallet on top of it.  Absurdly, a shakiness began in his knees, but the slow-seeping juice that caused it merely deepened his steady voice.

“But there’s some error, Mr. Green.  There isn’t one free room in the entire inn.”  His eyes sent the page boy an almost imperceptible look, but Phil saw it.  It signaled “no” or “hold it” or something which the boy understood well enough to make him shift from his rigid attention to an “at ease.”  And with the signal, a curious thing had happened to Mr. Calkins’ face.  It had drawn all mobility into itself, absorbing it, blotterlike; it presented now only the even, dead stain of on-guardedness.

“You were about to give me a room – apart from the reservation.  What’s changed your mind?”

“Why, not a thing.  It’s unfortunate, but there isn’t – ”  He reached toward the telegram.  Quietly Phil shoved the wallet aside so that the message and the signature, “J. Calkins,” became visible.  But he let his hand rest on the lower part of it.  Mr. Calkins said, “Perhaps the Brewster Hotel near the station?” and reached toward the telephone.

“I’m not staying at the Brewster,” Phil said.  He looked directly into Calkins’ eyes.  Calkins raised his shoulders, drew his hand back from the telephone, and said nothing at all.  “I am Jewish, and you don’t take Jews – that’s it, isn’t it?”

“Why, I wouldn’t put it like that.  It’s just – ”

“This place is what they call ‘restricted’- is that it?”

“I never said that.”

It was like fighting fog, slapping at mist.  A man and woman came up, saying “Air-mail for these,” left two letters, and began to go off.

“If you don’t accept Jews, say so,” Phil said.  The pair stopped.  Calkins picked up the letters.

“I am very busy just now, Mr. Green.  If you’d like me to phone up a cab or the Brewster – ”  He reached into a drawer, took out a strip of air-mail stamps, and folded two back on the perforated hinge.  The couple moved on.  From behind him, the woman’s voice came clearly back to Phil.  “Always pushing in, that’s the Jew of it.” Calkins turned aside to a rustic box with a slit top and dropped the letters into it.  There was something so placid, so undisturbed about the gesture that all the backed-up violence Phil had been grinding down exploded.  His hand suddenly had plaid wool and buttons in it; he had leaned across the counter and seized Calkins under the throat, twisting him forward so that they faced each other once more.

“You coward,” he said and dropped his hand.  He turned to the page, signaled for his bag, and said, “My cab’s waiting; I’ve got tickets on the four-o’clock plane.”

The page grinned widely.  “So it is just books in it.  Clothes aren’t ever this heavy, sir.”

Calkins made a sound.  Comprehension was in it, and nervousness.  A cold shaft of triumph shot through the heat and poison boiling in Phil.  Mr. Calkins had caught on to the fact that something was going on besides the hiring of a room.  Mr. Calkins was frightened.

– Laura Z. Hobson

The Year Of The Zinc Penny, by Rick DeMarinis – 1989 (Anne Bascove)

She understood me, though. 
Not my words but my acquiescence. 
I relaxed back into the pillow and stared at the white ceiling. 
She began to sing again as she dipped the washcloth into the pan of warm water. 
“When the lights go on again, all over the world,”
she sang, her voice plaintive and sad. 
Her melancholy tone made me think
that she had a boyfriend or husband overseas.
I imagined him an airman, a fighter pilot stationed in London. 
He flew P-51 Mustangs and had shot down twelve Messerschmitt Me-109s
before getting shot down himself. 
He was lying, helpless, in a hospital on the outskirts of London. 
He couldn’t remember his name of where he came from,
and no one had told him just yet that his legs had been amputated. 
He could remember his girlfriend or wife,
but only her pretty face and mournful singing voice,
not her name. 
“Jenny,” he’d cry out in his delirium. 
Then he’d sink back into his confused gloom. 
“No, not Jenny,” he’d mumble. 
(105)

I had discovered something about myself. 
I knew that I was now capable of mustering any necessary lie at will. 
I could say “Dad” and not mean it
and I could accept being called “son” by someone who did not mean it. 
It was like discovering an unsuspected talent. 
William and Betty didn’t have this talent,
and I was dimly aware that it was a deficiency that would cost them dearly. 
I was also dimly aware that if this talent could be used without shame,
its power would be awesome.

And dangerous. 
As dangerous as the one who used it as leukemia. 
Because necessary lies trick the liar himself. 
He wants to believe them. 
Then he does.

“Stay clear of it,” Aunt Ginger had said.
Her words repeated themselves in my mind, gathering meaning. 
(130-131)

– Rick DeMarinis –

 

The Voice of America, by Rick DeMarinis – 1991 (Anne Bascove)

“…a second chance is the sweetest blessing any of us can hope for.”

How people could lie to themselves,
and believe it,
was the miracle of human life as far as I was concerned. 
(177)

He’s on a mission of wild truth-seeking. 
He thinks he can solve his life if he keeps telling it. 
(208)

A story should not mean; at best it should be meant.
(213)

– Rick DeMarinis –