Shirts and Skins by Jeffrey Luscombe
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
First of all, I noticed some errors in the Kindle edition I purchased the week of April 7th, 2013.
At 10%, page 27 – As smoked filled the car,
- should be smoke
At 38%, page 91 – his mother enjoyed telling people his Grandma is dead.
- should be was dead, not is dead. This is followed by another past tense sentence, this present tense verb doesn’t fit
At 63%, page 146 – “Hey, do you have another one of those things for your hair,” Rob asked. He pointed an unsteady finger at Josh’s head.”
- remove the closing quote after the word head, it’s not a quote
At 67%, page 155 – “Great costumes,” Lynn said.”
- remove the closing quote after the word said, it’s not a quote
At 77%, page 177, after Heads you live; tails you die. The italics continue unnecessarily.
Same place, same page, Like the rest of us”
- needs punctuation at the end of the paragraph
- also italics start again unnecessarily
At 91%, page 209 – Josh’ apartment
- needs an s, should be Josh’s apartment
At 95%, page 218 – “Is she’s crazy?” his father asked
- should be is she crazy
Same place, same page – “What’s that?” he asked pointing at a picture of a glass of orange juice on the menu.”
- remove the closing quote after the word menu, it’s not a quote
It’s difficult for me to write this review. I have met the author a few times in passing and I will see him again.
I will say up front this book was not for me. I see a lot of people liked it, and while the book had redeeming features, I felt like it was written for someone else, not me. When I first met the author, I read the free preview on Kindle and thought the book was overly dark and negative, so I didn’t buy it. But I kept seeing Jeffrey again and again, and finally the book was chosen for my book club so I read it.
The tone of the book starts out a little precious. I noted as an example:
“Josh was only seven but this was not the first secret that he and his father had shared. Adults liked to tell Josh secrets.”
On page 89, I came across the word, trite. I felt like in the sentence above, and some others, as the character was seven the author had to speak to me like I was seven which was unnecessary. It seemed to rectify itself as the character aged.
The setting is my childhood, in Hamilton instead of Lindsay. Everyone smokes, everyone is white, everyone is poor. “The only entertainment in his high school was drug sniffing does in the halls and the occasional sexual assault.”
There’s a saying about when you look into the abyss, the abyss looks into you. I looked into the abyss and got out as soon as possible. I fought so hard and fast to get away that it made me uncomfortable reading this book and being transported back. The protagonist of this book, Josh, doesn’t fight and let’s himself fall, let’s himself become one of the hated oppressors early on, and the book pretty much lost me from there.
When Josh becomes the lowest common denominator, I don’t know how he let that happen. When he pushes the kid and calls him a fag, when he dehumanizes women with a sexist comment and the school bully says “That’s exactly what I would have written”. How does he live with himself at that point? And how does he keep this up for 35 years? And why?
The narrator is a drunk, smokes a lot, and has no ambition. He’s petty. “And if a dead grandmother wasn’t enough, now I got a fucking hole in my boot.” I read another review that said she loved being in the author’s head. I hated it. Even in college he’s flicking “his wrist effeminately” and making fun of gays. I felt like I was reading a book about a homophobe, not a gay man.
The narrator doesn’t have a gay experience until page 200 of a 230 page book. I was reminded of a recent book by Robertson Davies I read where he says he isn’t more homosexual than most men. Neither is the narrator.
The narrator has a ponytail; I have never liked men with long hair. I have an aversion to them.
After the first time Josh has sex with a man, he says “I planned on having sex with a man this week” and goes on to talk about how he had planned all this. I took a writing course and they talked about getting in your character’s head and how sometimes you can draw the reader in by letting them in on a secret no one else knows. For example, the narrator can call someone and say they’re feeling good, even though the reader knows they’re feeling bad. It let’s the reader have a peek behind the scenes so to speak. The opposite happens with this, where the narrator knows something and he purposefully keeps the reader in the dark. He knew a week ago this was going to happen and took steps to make this happen? How did I not know about this? It alienated me. More so.
At the end of the book, Josh is looking around a restaurant at everyone else and thinking “They all looked so happy. So perfectly happy.” This really summed the book up for me. Even at the end when he has released his demons, he’s still looking around and thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Play your own hand Josh. Life is what you make it.
Although I was frustrated by this book, I know a lot of people who enjoyed it and I wholly recommend it to everyone. Support local authors.
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