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Skin suffers from unconventional writing


By Kathe Koja.

Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group

389 pp.

By Gretchen Koot

In Skin, Kathe Koja tries to follow the psychological disintegration of Bibi, an artist whose lust for power and body piercing lead to madness. The story is told through the eyes of the protagonist, Tess, a poor, young steel-sculptor. These two characters come together after Bibi approaches Tess about a possible collaboration. Tess sees Bibi as an exciting dancer interested in pushing the physical limits of her body. After watching Bibi and her fellow dancers perform, she notices that many of them are bruised and bleeding. Tess is intrigued, so she agrees to team up with the dancers to stage some kind of bizarre performances. Unfortunately, Koja never really shows the reader what is going on in these performances.

Tess and Bibi's artistic alliance falls apart after one of the performers is accidentally killed by one of Tess' robot/sculptures. However, their relationship and the novel are far from over. Tess and Bibi are irresistibly drawn to each other. Soon, they mend their differences, and Bibi moves in with Tess. They remain "just friends" until one night Bibi comes home from having her clitoris pierced, and in an emotional outburst, she and Tess consummate their lesbian lust. The rest of the novel continues to focus on Tess and Bibi's relationship and Bibi's degeneration until it ends in an unsurprising climax of violence.

This novel might have been interesting if the deeper motivations of the characters had been revealed. Unfortunately, even the main characters remain distanced from the reader throughout the narrative. The biggest flaw in this novel is the writing. Koja often abandons grammar, sentence structure, and, as a result, clarity. Many of her incomplete sentences are simply unintelligible. Her descriptive style consists of throwing out random colors (usually black or blood red), sounds (usually screams or metallic groans), and shapes without ever providing the reader with a clear picture of the action.

I don't expect every published novel to be on an equal footing with the work of Hemingway. It should however at least be entertaining. Skin wasn't.