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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Mysterious Skin
Format: Audio Cassette|Change

TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 November 2014
4 1/2 stars -- This is a haunting and disturbingly open-ended book. It's about two boys (young men, by the time the story ends) who go through similar traumatic experiences at the age of eight and whose responses to the trauma are strikingly different. Whether both of the responses amount to kinds of denial the reader will come to his or her own conclusions about. Suffice it to say here that between the traumatic events and the final two chapters the boys (who come from different small towns in Kansas) remain unknown to one another, and that they come together is owed to the persistence of one of the boys, Brian Lackey, to find out about some missing hours in his life and their relation to his ideas about space aliens and UFO's. The other boy, Neil McCormick, has no gaps in his memory, but he has embarked on a way of life the relation of which to the traumatic event he is too young to understand. By the end of the book, after considerable additional difficulties, the two young men have got together and acknowledged the trauma -- but the novel refuses to let us sentimentally believe that the truth has set them free. The ending isn't tied up with a bow and delivered to us.

Heim's narrative choice in this novel is to have everything told through the perspective of young people -- the boys themselves, immature and uncomprehending, and some of their friends and family (immature and ignorant of what happened). It's almost an alternation of the two boys' points of view in snapshots of time over a ten year period. There are large gaps, especially between the ages of 12 and 18. It's a risky decision, because these are unreliable narrators who are being as honest as they can be -- given their ages and circumstances -- so Heim asks quite a lot of his readers. The boys' degrees of introspection are different -- their individual characterizations are well achieved -- and, of course, in the nature of the case, introspection is hampered by ignorance and a lack of conceptual clarity that is understandable. Under it all, is the question of where the selves of these boys are. Has something been taken away from them? What is the psychological way forward when they come to see their situations more clearly? Are they more likely to end up as "cases" than as grown-ups (whatever these are)?

The space alien element of the novel is quite brilliantly deployed, I think -- for it too, finally, rests on questions of what the human meaning of events is. It is also through this element that we meet the book's weirdest character, Avalyn Friesen who has been kidnapped by aliens herself and who sees hereself therefore as a source of both information and encouragement for Brian. She'll creep you out at times . . . . I recommend this one.
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on 20 September 1999
Superficially a coming of age tale with a twist, Mysterious Skin tracks a decade in the life of two teenage boys in small town America, following them from their school yard days through early teens and adolescence until they eventually become the adults their childhood selves must concede to.
The innocence of Brian Lackey - one of the book's two main characters - is sharply contrasted by the knowing cynicism of his superficially unlikely ally, Neil McCormick. Neil is as sinister as Brian is guileless, but the shared childhood experience that links the two boys moves beyond the boundaries of a straightforward struggle between the "good" character and the one the reader initially assumes to be the "bad."
The story is told in the first person narrative shared between both characters, and the regular flits between the two distinct personalities gives context, texture and further depth to the levels of emotion in which the reader is gently immersed. Heim leaves no stone unturned when exploring the influences that affect the young adult: poverty, neglect, family ritual and marital breakdown are all woven into the story, but it is the powerful coping mechanisms that even a child can find within himself when flirting with the thrill of the forbidden that is the most fascinating aspect of the story. Mysterious Skin is as much a story about loss of innocence as it is about the power of young sexuality, and rarely is the inevitable link between the two so skillfully managed.
Heim maintains a style, pace and rhythm that is seamlessly graceful throughout the book even during the most harrowing scenes. Some may find the details of how an adult can manipulate, coerce and corrupt a child in order to satisfy his own contemptible cravings distasteful or sordid, but there is no hint of the heavy-handed shock tactics that were used so much in, for example, AM Holmes' The End Of Alice,' the only book I have ever heard this book being compared to and a comparison which does Mysterious Skin a great disservice.
It's not often that one come across a novel - especially a first novel - as unforgettable as this. Heim gives the reader a rare insight into the vulnerable adolescent male mind and weaves the complex - and often controversial issues - of child abuse and homosexuality into an almost dreamlike, fairytale narrative that will hang around in your mind long after you have finished the book. I have yet to read a book so cabalistic but so astonishingly beautiful; this is a haunting, courageous, incredibly skilful debut, a sublime read from a writer whose talents have so far been overlooked by the pundits.
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on 30 November 1999
This is a book of wonder in a harshly unwonderful universe. The final paragraph, a stunning concession to the world of descriptive fiction that belies the supposed heroic beauty of mankind is worth the cover price on its own. Highly recommended
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on 3 September 1999
This book is a cleverly structured complex tale of sexuality and long-term on-going effects of childhood trauma. I have now read 'Mysterious Skin' three time,, each time enthralled by the often disturbing images and scenarios of Heim's writing. I class it as one of my favourite works of fiction. I cannot reccommend this book more highly.
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on 12 August 2005
Daring, controversial, intelligent, beautiful, emotional, these are just a few of the words to describe this masterpiece. From the beginning it has you gripping the next page, wondering were the characters path in life will next take its turn. There are also points in the book that arguably could be edited, although the fact that they remain, makes this book seem even more of a work of art. Its rawness and beauty make it original and well worth a read. I hope to be reading more books from this amazing author in the near future.
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on 7 November 2011
Scott Heim portrays slowly recovering memory of trauma by fracturing it among the different characters, particularly the geek and the streetwise kid who later becomes a rent boy who said, `Hollywood would never make a movie about us.' - which of course, they did. His parents return home at 3am and his mother saves cocktail umbrellas. One psychotherapist has suggested that the way the story unfolds is fairly typical of how people deal with traumatic memories, though our own psychotherapist member argues that every one is different in the way that they process information and family secrets.

The subject matter is such that many people would find this book harrowing but I found it, if not `entertaining' absorbing. I did, however, find some Americanisms annoying, e.g. `crawl space' and `to touch it (Neil's hair) would be like touching corduroy'

One of our members read the whole book in one sitting because it was so engaging, another said that it was `beautiful and well-crafted.' One member pointed out that the `moral landscape' of this book mirrors the flat physical landscape of Kansas, where the story is set.

I shall never see folk who believe in UFOs or in devils in quite the same way again. What awful experience have they undergone that makes them believe so irrationally? Is abduction by aliens, one member asked, really to do with the abduction of memories?

The author avoids a `victims' and `monsters' scenario: the paedophile coach is portrayed as an immature adult and there is a telling juxtaposition, at the end, as the innocence of the Christmas carol `Silent night.......holy infant tender and mild' sung outside contrasts with the recollection of innocence violated and stolen inside. One of the children was not completely innocent: `Half of me knew if wasn't right, the other half wanted it to happen.'
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on 11 September 2005
Scott Heim is an author with so much to say, and he presents his story with such passion and detail that you would almost think his fictional characters illustrated in Mysterious Skin, are flesh and blood individuals like you and I. But isn't that the secret idealogy of fiction? To make the reader feel like they are experiencing a real and believable world? You decide.
Mysterious Skin is an original and imaginative representation of the effects of child abuse, and although the author is graphic in his writing, his style offers a very unique way of bringing ordinary characters to an exciting new level.
The story concerns two male characters and their journey to discover a truth about their past and who they really are, but I don't want to reveal too much as I may spoil it for new eyes.
After finishing the book I realised how much emotion I had felt for these two characters, and yes I admit it, it was a heartbreaking yet satisfying read. I urge anyone to read this book, even if books aren't really your thing, you should consider this an exception!!!! Hey who knows, it may change your life.
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on 25 July 2015
Depressing story, incredibly badly written. Completely unrealistic characters and thoroughly warped story line. Almost as bad as the film!
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on 13 July 2014
A gripping novel, the first book I read written by Scott Heim. Quite frightening to see how easy it can be to abuse children even in places like rural Kansas.
The fascinating thing about this book is to discover how children can react in a different way to what happens to them and also how this "experience" has different effects during the years that they grow up.
Both Brian and Neil come from "broken" families where there are no more dads which doesn't help to come clear with what happened. Even their mutual friend Eric living with his grandparents seem to be lost having lost both of his parents.
The book ends when they are all around nineteen years old, you wonder how their future will look like.
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on 26 January 2010
I had chosen to read this book because I had heard such good things about Scott Heim. It didn't disappoint. I ripped through it at a pace of knots. It's one of those books that I read at any and every given opportunity. Heim uses the first-person narrative to good effect, the voices changing from chapter to chapter. In this respect, it harks back to the epistolary novels of the eighteenth-century, though the content is gritty, engaging, and erotic (though uncomfortably so, given the theme of child abuse). I found Heim's writing style descriptive, powerful and highly engaging. I don't know if Heim researched the subject of child abuse or whether it is all from his imagination, but I found it very believable. It was fascinating to read how the experience had affected lead characters Neil and Brian in such different ways and yet, arguably, the experience was equally damaging for both. It's interesting how something so disturbing can create such a readable text - and a credit to Heim's writing style. My only very slight criticism is that I found the ending a tad abrupt and left a lot of questions in my mind. There is, however, a lot to be said for ambiguity. Questions are good.
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