I originally read Skin when it was first released in 1993 by Dell Abyss back when they had their horror line. I remember stalking my local bookstores for their titles and now those bookstores are long gone. I miss those days. Because my memory is poo and it was over 20 years ago (OMG!), I remembered none of the little details and only had vague memories of it disturbing me in the best way. I’m so glad I had the chance to revisit it again on audio and I’m thrilled that it held up to my memories and I could love it all over again. This book is something special and even now, so many years later, it managed to disturb and entrance me.
Tess is a welder who sculpts amazingly eerie pieces out of scraps of metal. Bibi is a performance artist into body modification who wants Tess to become a part of her group when she spots her work. Tess melds metal into moving pieces that fit into Bibi’s vision of the dark and bloody show she wants to create. The show becomes a huge underground hit melding flesh and pain awash in blood but the show is only the beginning step in this horrifying body horror tale.
Skin is about taking things to the extreme, yes, but also so much more. Bibi is all sharp angles and metal and torn and scarred skin and she has an intoxicating effect on Tess and all of those around her -intoxicating to the point of obsession and blind worship. Skin is about love and sex and friendship and toxic relationships but mostly it is about obsession and all of its nasty little tentacles and what happens when one takes things too far. It is an experience.
The prose is different and unlike anyone else I’ve read in all of these in-between years. It’s descriptive and to the point without being overly wordy. A scene is clearly and thoroughly set within a few words or a sentence. It’s a little stream of consciousness at times but never in a mind-numbing way. It’s amazing and it may take you a moment to adjust and it is SO hard to describe so I’ll just give you the opening lines.
“Dust. Above a party store, LIQUOR, LOTTO, keno machines fed by the poorest of the poor with coins rattled black by pocket tumbling, machine sounds nervous as a nervous cough. Grit-rimmed eyes, grit beneath her nails like powdered bone, fresh solder burn on her inner wrist a party-red, still too sore even to bandage. Dirt like sugar between her teeth.”
Dirt like sugar between her teeth. I LOVE that.
It evokes images in such a unique way that plunged me right into its dark, moody world. This isn’t a book you can skim (nor would you want to). You have to pay attention because the pace is fast. I usually speed up my audios but this is one where you won’t want to do that. Narrator Suzanne Fortin does a great job with the tricky prose. She emotes when needed, her cadence and tone fit the story and she never lost my attention. I have no complaints about anything. It’s a miracle, haha.
This is body horror so be ready for that. It is gory and disturbing but it’s all written in a way that doesn’t smack you over the head with it. That doesn’t mean it won’t make you cringe. Honestly, I think it’s more unsettling for just that reason. I don’t know how Koja managed this but she did it amazingly well.
Bonus recommendation: Have you seen the movie American Mary? It’s focused on one obsession in this book and would be a fun companion piece (if you find this stuff fun). It’s about people into extreme body modification and it is so horrifying that I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. You probably won’t be able to turn your eyes away either, even if you should.