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There are many reasons to read a novel: enjoyment, character development, instruction, learning something new, plot line, images, ideas, stretching the imagination, and, of course, enjoyment. "Faces" does a good job of offering all of these reasons. The characters are interesting, the plot line is coherent over time, the ideas are interesting, the writing is clear and concise, powerful at times; and it is an enjoyable read. "When Dominic was five, his home exploded." That event, so quietly reported, brings about the movement of Dominic and his brother Emmett from Manchester in the UK to Canada – and then from Halifax to Vancouver, where Dominic learns about his father's time in a POW camp during WWI.
At the University of British Columbia, Dominic meets Inge, whom he comes to love and understand even though his mother "could not love". There are a few overriding images that help one understand the characters and the deeper meaning in the novel. For example, the skeletons of the old banking schooners at the bottom of the harbour remind us of the past and how it is always there "under the water"; that exploding home when Dominic was a five year old and the effect it has on him; Dominic's father's time working as a farm labourer while a POW in Germany; and the realization that "one's life was so fragile, so dependent on the unknown, the unpredictable" (41).
The meeting of Dominic and Inge begins as two colleagues talking and walking and then grows into a merging of two individuals into one entity of loving relationship with respect and change, growth and understanding. Each maintains individuality while becoming more human as a result of the interplay.
In a note on the back of the book the author tells us "At the centre of the novel lies the idea of 'Positive Disintegration', that, in order to escape fixed and failing circumstances, it is necessary that those patterns be broken up and destroyed before they can be reintegrated into a higher level of functioning. The other pattern that can be seen is the rule of 'Unintended Consequences' . . .It (the story) is bout fear and determination, weakness and understanding but it is above all about love."
Those ideas do indeed speak to the genesis of the book, and armed, as we are today, with search engines and computers we can easily learn about the history of those ideas. Kazimierz Dąbrowski, a Polish psychiatrist and psychologist, developed the Theory of Positive Disintegration (TPD) over his lifetime of clinical and academic work. (Kazimierz Dąbrowski, M.D., Ph.D., (1902 – 1980))
The Theory of Positive Disintegration is a novel approach to personality development. The theory is a forerunner of what today is called post-traumatic growth. Dąbrowski described the psychological factors he believed to be related to positive (growth full) outcomes after crises. He called these factors developmental potential and they include a description of psychological sensitivity he called overexcitability (OE). Dąbrowski observed that individuals with strong OE experience crises in a stronger, deeper and more personal manner. The intense experience of crises creates an opportunity for the conscious and volitional rearrangement of the self including a reformulation and reprioritization of one's values and beliefs. The individual forms a new image of his or her ideal personality. With this ideal as a guide, the lower aspects of the self are inhibited, and higher goals and aspirations emphasized. The theory is a testimony to Kazimierz Dąbrowski's deep insights into human character and development. And the novel essentially provides a similar insight into the characters – especially Dominic and Inge.
Dąbrowski illustrated his theory through autobiographies of and biographies about those who have experienced positive disintegration. The gifted child, the suicidal teen or the troubled artist is often experiencing the features of TPD, and if they accept and understand the meaning of their intense feelings and crises, they can move ahead, not fall apart. The completion of an extensive autobiography to help the individual gain perspective on his or her past and present is an important component in the autopsychotherapy process. In this process, the therapist plays a very small role and acts more as an initial stimulus than an ongoing therapist. Dąbrowski asked clients to read his books and to see how his ideas might relate to their lives. – from Wikipedia
Dąbrowski's approach is very interesting philosophically as it is Platonic, reflecting the bias of Plato toward essence—an individual's essence is a critical determinant of his or her developmental course in life. However, Dąbrowski also added a major existential aspect as well - essence must be realized through an existential and experiential process of development. Again this idea is developed in the characters in the novel.
So, as you can see, this novel is full of, not only characters and places, plot lines and development; but also, ideas to be considered.
© 2019 Bob Lane
Bob Lane is an Emeritus Philosopher at Vancouver Island University.