Skin House got me with this line on its back cover: “Skin House is a story about two guys who end up in the same bar they started out in.” I thought, sweet, a kind of modern Waiting for Godot story. Wrong. But oh, so good in what it does do.
Take a down-and-out guy who stocks store shelves, add an ex-girlfriend who hates him while he still loves everything about her, his father Otis who lives unhappily in a nursing home and wonders who his son is, and his best friend, bald Gerry, who works in a meat department in a grocery store and competes with the guy for top rung on the loser ladder. Throw in a girlfriend, a guy named Socks, and lots of complications. Oh yes, and the author has a role, talks to us when he wants to tell us something. Make it funny and tragic as they try to deal with life, and you have the inventive and compelling novel by the accomplished and award-winning Michael Blouin, published by Anvil Press Publishers, Vancouver.
The sad bits are funny and the funny bits are sad. Like his attack on a broken washing machine:
I went back to the shed and got the sledge hammer. I remember how the plastic knobs shot right off the machine like flying saucers lifting off. I kept at it until my shoulders ached and a cold spit was draining off me and the machine just kind of melted into the ground but with a lot of noise. It was time lapse photography. The sixties had Woodstock. The seventies had the moon landing. The eighties had the Berlin Wall, or maybe that was the nineties. Doesn’t matter. Then there was 9/11. I’m not comparing my washing machine massacre to any of these things. I just felt better when it was done, like something had changed. It was what you call cathartic. Maybe the moon landing was in the sixties, I don’t know.
And the author warns after the hero suffers a mild injury to a personal appendage:
Careful this book doesn’t rip you up. I mean these are just things that happened. Don’t take it all too serious. We’ll get through this if we all just stick together and keep a clear head. Okay. Here we go. I’m talking around the fact that we’re having sex again right now, right here on this bed corner. Mind? I’m not going to tell you all the details. I’m busy. Got my hands full. Do you mind? Okay.
The book is irreverent and saucy, unexpected and poignant, none of which gives it enough credit. Blouin writes with spare prose, every word perfect, and repeats the F word A LOT because what else fits with a story where everything has a “hole down which, lately, I cannot help but fall” moment? Conversations and life incidents flip around as if the characters are caught in a giant rotating gumball machine and you don’t know what’s going to pop out next, except you know it’s likely going to be bad, and they may or may not be the cause of their own misfortune but you are going to cheer for them anyway.
I am putting Skin House on the 2020 longlist for “The Very Best!” Book Awards for Best Fiction. Five stars!
About the Author: Michael Blouin has won the ReLit Award (Best Novel), been shortlisted for the Amazon First Novel Award, the bp Nichol Award, the CBC Literary Award, and is a winner of the Diana Brebner Award and the 2012 Lampman Award from ARC magazine. He is the author of five previous books of fiction and poetry and his work has been included in several anthologies. He has been published in most Canadian literary magazines including Arc, Descant, Branch, Dragnet, The Antigonish Review, Event, Queen’s Quarterly, Grain and The Fiddlehead.
Skin House by Michael Blouin
- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Anvil Press (Sept. 23 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1772141186
- ISBN-13: 978-1772141184
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