Just a quick survey -- how many of you finished Mysterious Skin? If you stopped reading it, why? How many of you never even started?
I did finish it, but it was a struggle -- not because the writing was bad, or because the story wasn't compelling, but because I wanted to look away.
This book is: well-constructed, flawlessly detailed, beautiful, fucked up, disturbing, heartwarming, graphic, honest. And that's why I selected it. It's not my favorite book ever; for example, while often striking, the writing is sometimes too obvious. But I think the book reveals a lot about both human nature and writing, and there's a lot to discuss.
After Mary read the book her first comments to me had to do with its fucked-upness, which is maybe a good place to start. There are graphic -- too graphic? -- descriptions of child abuse, which one of the characters tells us he's okay with, basically. For most of us, I think it's safe to say, these parts are understandably hard to read and disturbing.
Scott Heim, who wrote this book as his MFA thesis at Columbia, said of his writing, "I'm constantly questioning the things that intrigue, horrify, or disturb me. Things that make me flinch. ... I find a peculiar sublimeness, a beauty even, in horror and violence; while that might be construed as a hang-up, it's what sets me apart from other writers, and therefore it's what I want to put into my writing." Later he says, "I thought the material with the detailed sexual scene with the man and the boy was going too far. Then a mentor read it; her first comment was, 'This is what will piss people off. Now go even further with it.' So I did."
What was your reaction to those particular scenes, especially in the overall context of the story? Were they necessary? How did you react to these characters and their experiences?
Other things I'm anxious to hear your thoughts on:
- What do you think of the narrative structure, the alternating first-person narration? Because if the way the book is written, what exactly happened to Brian isn't a surprise to the reader. Would the book have worked better if we were kept in suspense until the end?
- Of the novel's audience, Scott Heim said, "My impression ... is that most of the readers were gay men. While it was great to have that 'avenue,' I really wanted it to cross over more. I didn't intend it as a 'gay' book." Is this book gay fiction because there are gay characters in it or because it was written by a gay man? I'm especially interested in knowing what the straight BookBlog members think; did this book work for you or not?
- Is this a moral book? An honest book? Both? Neither? What, if anything, does it illuminate about the human experience?
Wow. I'm sure I'm not the only one whose head was reeling during that great discussion of Revenge. Thanks to Kara for choosing such a meaty book. Thanks also go out to our newest member and Revenge expert Alex, a.k.a. Dark Past.
Moving on to future months, you can see by the tote board on the left that the upcoming moderators have chosen their books:
Andy has chosen Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim for this month. It's an emotional story of a young man's struggle to learn what happened to him during several hours of "lost" time from his childhood.
Kate's title for March is Shopgirl, Steve Martin's look at the life of a lonely woman who works behind the glove counter at Neiman Marcus.
Next, Mary Carmen's April selection is Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire and illustrated by Bill Sanderson. This retelling of the Cinderella story is set in 17th-century Holland.
I hope everyone is looking forward to the upcoming discussions.
Anyone ready to take on May? (You knew I was going to ask!)