Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Face Recognition

Write a short scene in which the ability to recognize faces is crucial to the outcome of the scene (it doesn't have to be correct face recognition--it could be mistaken face recognition). How do you describe a face? This is one of the most difficult tasks fiction writers encounter--describing something so ineffable that we nevertheless know instinctually so well. How do you describe a sudden understanding of anything, let alone a face?
(from prompt #37 in The 3AM Epiphany)

Read my response:

David Alexander
"David Alexander" by Alex Barth

Before anyone sees him, he sees their kneecaps. He studies how calves and thighs bind together, how veins run and bulge blue, he watches joints bend and muscles twitch and flex. He looks at all these knees and other parts of people with his own knees tucked up under his chin, hugging his legs and rocking slightly. His mom is shopping for clothes, for girl clothes, and she doesn’t know it but he snuck away to a round clothing carousel and hid behind a curtain of women’s coats. It’s past coat season, and no one yet has rifled through his observatory cave.

He waits for his mom and plots how he’ll greet her when she comes by, when he hears her shoes hurrying after she’s noticed he’s missing: he’ll pull the coats open and yell “Boo!” and she’ll jump back with her hand on her heart and say “You scared me! I was looking everywhere for you!” While he waits he pretends he is a spy watching everyone. He pretends he is a fox that is too smart for anyone to find. He pretends he is an orphan, and then he hopes his mom comes by soon so he can grab her legs and surprise her and then play a new game.

He sits rocking and resting his head on his knees. The legs he sees passing by march around like alien soldiers with faces but no features, just blank discs that pause and bend, different legs but with the same bald, expressionless knees. The longer he waits the more he wants to see her. When she wears socks she lets him pick them out, funny ones with stripes or little dogs, but today she’s wearing sandals, just like everyone else.

When he gets scared, when people ask him questions he doesn’t understand or when they stare at him too much, sometimes he holds her legs and hides behind them, with his face at the bend behind her kneecaps. When he does that, when he tucks his face away, she’ll smooth his hair and lets him hide for as long as needs. Right now though, he doesn’t want to hide.

He crawls out and there are women of all ages occupying themselves with price tags and sizes. He stares at all the different faces without shying, and studies how every feature, noses and cheekbones and eyebrows and lips, bind together and still aren’t everything. He studies how lips stretch and purse and pucker and spread into thoughts or smiles without saying words, eyes flick and follow and give as much light as they take in, and he watches all this to find one face. She is bent, searching knee-high among the shoppers. Before she sees him, he sees her face.


  1. Wow, this is a very interesting and fun-to-read post. Nicely done.

  2. Hi how are you?

    I was looking through your blog and found it interesting and wanted to leave you a comment.

    I hope you will visit my art blog, and become friendly.

    We hope to hear from you soon,
    Jesse Noe

  3. Nice. This is really good.

    This excercise reminds me of one where you have to look at yourself in the mirror for 2 minutes, and then decribe your face in the 3rd person.
    You should listen to the 'writing challenges' podcast it you get a chance (think they're from Warwick university - but available for free on itunes). He has some interesting excerises.


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