In the spirit of partnership, co-authors Robert Edward Levin and Steve J. Weiss have divided the narrative voices of the brothers whose story this is. Levin writes as Damion and Weiss as Travis, and they form the yin and the yang of About Face.
With a soliloquy reminiscent of Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salingerís The Catcher in the Rye, the books opens to Damion in prison, reflecting on his life in "the stinkiní jail cell" and on how he misses his brother, the voice of calm and reason in juxtaposition to his own anger, rage and impulsiveness:
"You canít really put a startin point on all things, but in fifteen years Iíve been rottin away in this stinkiní jail cell, Iíve come to realize that what happened to me and my brother Travis probably began on that last summer nightÖí
Damion goes on to describe his first date with a "fine lookiní gal Kathy Sweet" during which he had to "defend her womanly honor all because" some guy "decided to say the kinda things ya ought not to say to a church goiní gal." He canít see how his brother could "foreshadow" what was going to become of their lives; he doesnít see that he had it coming.
The boys grew up with a mother who died when Damion was still a child and an abusive father who they are careful to stay away from. They know that one day they will be free. But when they find out another child is in similar circumstances, they take up the challenge of saving him. The bond between them is so unshakeable that they instinctively make the decision without much conversation. But always it is Travis who keeps his cool and tries to get his brother to keep his, with varying results. Damion says of his brotherís efforts
"Öthere ainítí been a time in my life when my nerves went into orbit and I didnít feel his hand on my shoulder tryiní to steady me." Because, he admits, "Iíve been known to bust loose at the drop of a hat."
Travis describes his relationship with his brother as akin to a bond with "one of those Derby horses, quiet though much stronger than one could imagine." Their dislike and fear of their father is another factor that bonds them together. "Usually we never dared to go inside the old manís shed; that would be like climbiní into a junkyard to steal a bone from a hungry Doberman," Travis says.
They try to justify their fatherís downward spiral into indifference, anger and finally violence. In fact they attribute it to their motherís dying from ovarian cancer:
"After she was gone, I remembered seeing my daddy withdraw, farther and farther away, until he wasnít really there at allÖwhat remained was a physical shellÖhe worked morning Ďtil deep into the night, leaving us to fend for ourselves."
Travisí maturity, perception and understanding of life is a reflection of his motherís love and her memories. Perhaps thatís why he is able to exert self-control and read situations:
"I clung to my own picture of our mom, and saw it in my mind most every day. I could see her greeting me at the door after school, a welcoming smile on her face. She worked at the county library but would always be home by the time I arrived. And nearly everyday, she brought me home a book. I learned to read when I was four and never stopped. Nothing seemed to make her happier than walking in my room and seeing me curled up with a book.. The memory I liked bringing up the most was of her sitting on the edge of the bed watching me read, smiling and stroking my hair."
From the depths of these dismal surroundings, the brothers concoct their getaway plan, but fate intervenes and permanently changes their lives.
Levin and Weiss have taken a contemporary story, so ordinary as to be almost mundane that it could have been plucked out of the back pages of the metropolitan section of any newspaper. But what they have made of it is absolutely brilliant. The bond between the brothers and their cohesive understanding of their circumstances and the world inspire them to make a big sacrifice to save another child.
For all the sordidness of their surroundings, the helplessness of their own lives and the sadness that engulfs them, they emerge as heroes, determined, strong, brave and unfaltering in their quest to save a kindred soul.
About Face has a dark side, but itís also poignant, humane, heartwarming and amazing because its characters never give up. They persevere, and they live to fight another day.