My Reading Antlers

Mysterious Skin

Mysterious Skin Reissue Edition by Heim, Scott published by Harper Perennial (2005) - Scott Heim


"When I sprinted from the house, I saw the moon, orange, almost electric, stalled between feathery clouds like a helium balloon, ready to burst into a million splinters. Without glasses, the world melted from focus. The house and trees seemed under water. I leaned against a tree and felt its knobby trunk pressing into my skin like a column of bones."

Rating: 5 Stars
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, LGBTQ
Setting: U.S - Midwest
Timeline: 1980's
Official Summary: At the age of eight Brian Lackey is found bleeding under the crawl space of his house, having endured something so traumatic that he cannot remember an entire five–hour period of time. During the following years he slowly recalls details from that night, but these fragments are not enough to explain what happened to him, and he begins to believe that he may have been the victim of an alien encounter. Neil McCormick is fully aware of the events from that summer of 1981. Wise beyond his years, curious about his developing sexuality, Neil found what he perceived to be love and guidance from his baseball coach. Now, ten years later, he is a teenage hustler, a terrorist of sorts, unaware of the dangerous path his life is taking. His recklessness is governed by idealized memories of his coach, memories that unexpectedly change when Brian comes to Neil for help and, ultimately, the truth.

Two words. Soul crushing, just absolutely soul crushing. Life is tragic, it is beautiful and redemptive, yet it was hard to go through the book with any sort of optimism. Once the milk has been spilled, the stain just won't come out. Things are built up, and they fall to pieces. The characters try their best to pull the pieces back together, but in the end, one just has to keep pushing along, surviving and trying to find some joy in the fact that at least they are loved and not completely alone.

The prose is beautiful, sparse and to the point yet poetic. The characters themselves are relatable. The story features various points of views all from the different characters as they grow up in Little River or Hutchinson Kansas, but mainly focuses on the lives of Brian Lackey and Neil McCormick, both of who had suffered terrible trauma during childhood and how they deal with and then eventually come to terms with what had happened to them.

Mysterious Skin is probably better known for its movie starring Joseph Gordon Levitt. I have seen the movie, but I don't think I will discuss the differences between the two, they both have their merits. I think, perhaps, the movie is less disturbing just because the scenes in the book are just that much more graphic (whereas they would not actually show the abuse explicitly in the movie). I would not recommend this book to those who are easily offended by sex and violence involving children and teens. However, the book is honest, and these things DO happen and I believe that it is worth reading and acknowledging, even if it is so very painful and heartbreaking.

To play devil's advocate about the cons of the book, at some point, I felt like the minor POVs (Wendy and Eric) served no purpose than to show how awesomely hot and dangerous Neil was. "As I later wrote in my journal, Neil would have 'averted my eye from an uncapped grenade'". Now imagine this... almost all the time. At some point, I felt that all the other characters besides Neil and Brian sort of existed for the sole purpose of illustrating a more objective view of them. That's not to say that the minor characters aren't painted vividly, because they are, but they didn't seem particularly important and could've really been replaced by anyone and it wouldn't have made much of a difference. It was also a bit more than suited my tastes with the self-wallowing.

All of the characters are looking to escape. You can be Deborah or her father who literally moves away, or like Wendy and Eric who fantasizes about being saved from monotony with their morbid fantasies of murder and mayhem, or you can be Neil, who separates himself from others by lashing out on them, or like Brian, who, instead of facing the troubles in front of him, prefers to look towards the sky for glimpses of the extraterrestrial. Mysterious Skin is a book about a small suburb in the middle of nowhere and how all the characters feel trapped. It is a story about growing up, and how rarely one ever does it gracefully, but with a sort of violence that leaves one with a sense of vertigo.

The protection of innocence and its theft is what some people would consider the transitional point between child and adult. You are no longer a child if you are corrupted, yet, that is hardly the case since no one in the story gives off the feeling of being a responsible adults. The adults in the story struggle to raise their children while their own personal lives come crashing down like a vase into a thousand tiny pieces. They are child molesters, rapists, lonely men who slowly drive by parks looking for prostitutes are examples of those on the more degenerate side, and at best, they are too busy wrestling with their own problems to do anything about the problems of others. And if they are not blind to the problems of their children, they can do little about it except watch them grow up as one would an inevitable train crash. Brian's mother is as close to a responsible adult as one gets in the story, bless her soul.

Needless to say, it is a depressing story. Prepare to suffer.

Anyway, enough of about the book. I went and googled "pedophilia" (hope the cops don't bust through my door and arrest me, I swear it's just for this review), but I came across some interesting discoveries that I'm sure everyone else already knew and I'm the only one who is late to the party.

According to WebMD, a pedophile is: "a person who has a sustained sexual orientation toward children, generally aged 13 or younger. Not all pedophiles are child molesters (or vice versa). Child molesters are defined by their acts; pedophiles are defined by their desires. Some pedophiles refrain from sexually approaching any child for their entire lives." But it's not clear how common that is.

Pedophilia has been categorized as a mental disorder since 1968. I find it sort of odd that they would say it is both a mental disease and a sexual orientation. I'm not trying to defend pedophilia or anything, but not that long ago, homosexuality was considered a disease as well... hm, some food for thought. I'm definitely not venturing into that territory since that opens up a whole can of worms and I don't want to be caught with my foot in my mouth. At the moment, I kind of view pedophilia as a mental disease a bit like an antisocial personality disorder. It's not something that one can help, and it is detrimental to others living in society. There is no cure, but there is therapy that makes it manageable.
So all of this talk about traumatized children, destroyed childhoods, and sexual predators begs the question of how early is too early to talk about sex with your children. Personally, I think it is never too early to talk about sex. If a child can ask about it, then a parent/guardian should be able to answer it. Knowing too much is definitely better than knowing too little. There are concerns by parents that by teaching their children about sex, they will immediately start bopping like bunnies. Well, sure, generally that happens when sex is FIRST taught to children by the media and pornography (think Neil McCormick whose first exposure to sex is porno mags and watching his mother and her boyfriend), which does nothing but glamorize sex while ignoring all the responsibilities and precautions that are necessary when it comes to connecting so intimately with another human being. In pornography, vulnerability is an act, and a fantasy that doesn't actually exist. All porn stars look pretty damn confident in themselves as well as movie actors/actresses who are having sex for the first time (pan slowly away to the full moon out the window as the bodies fall slowly to the bed).

That's why I believe it is important to teach your child about sex before something or someone else does. I for one, would not want my child to one day be caught by a predator and not know what's going on or that what is happening to him or her is wrong and help should be sought for immediately, or even if it could not be helped, that the child should feel safe enough with talking about what happens in the lower half of a human body to a parental figure without feeling ashamed or dirty. After all, we want to catch that fucker and many of these crimes are not reported until it is much too late.

Wow, I really went off on a moralizing tangent didn't I? Well all in all, I think Mysterious Skin is a fabulous book, but will definitely strike the wrong chords with some people. Read at your own risk.