Review: Cold Skin

Posted on May 28, 2010 in reading | 0 comments

I’ve had to do way too much digging for interesting books lately, and it came to a head a couple weeks ago, when the only functioning computer at my local library blatantly refused to open its catalog. What is an impatient person to do with such insolent technology? Rummage through thousands of books in hopes of finding an underappreciated gem? Call me crazy, but okay!

The regular fiction section was way too daunting for this kind of risky business, so I visited the small and inviting Teen section and ended up picking out a couple books: Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin (author of The Wizard of Earthsea, a truly spectacular book) and Cold Skin by Steven Herrick (some award-winning Australian poet).

On a side note, I must say I recommend a good teen book to anyone, at least every now and again. I mean, why not? There are some pretty awesome stories out there in the wild teen section. And for those I’m-too-busy-to-read individuals, did I mention that YA novels come in concentrated form? Let’s face it: it’s a lot faster to read a 300-page book with a 14-pt font than a 500-page book with a 10-pt font.

So I took the books home with me, completely prepared for a disaster. Here’s the good news: both were definitely a fast read, manageably conquerable in just one Saturday. And the…news? I’ll be honest, I was ready to put Gifts down about every 10 minutes. There was just too much droning on about a bunch of hard-to-pronounce-or-remember people, and the slow storyline made it brutal. But the second one, Cold Skin, actually piqued my interest.

Let me just stop you right there and say that no, Cold Skin is not a vampire novel. Instead, it’s about a community of people living in a tiny mining town in Australia. You have all the “typical” small-town antics here (I’ve never lived in a small town, so I have no idea how typical they are; they just seem to show up a lot in novels about small towns):

  • The men are trying to forget the difficulties of life—and their insecurities about the part they played in the war—so they suffer through their job (in the mines, on a farm) and then drink themselves into a stupor in the evenings.
  • The high school kids are from one of two categories: they’ve either accepted where they are in life and expect to be a miner in the same town forever, or they are hell-bent on getting out, seeing the world, and creating a new life for themselves.
  • Everyone knows one another and has opinions of one another. Everyone has a history of some sort, and almost everyone knows that history.

So the whole town is just trying to deal with the qualms they have about one another, their situation, and themselves—like most of us—and suddenly, one of their most promising teenage girls is found dead. Suddenly, everyone is at one another’s throats, and you (the reader) are trying to sort through buckets of information to solve the mystery.

I don’t really consider myself a murder mystery kind of gal, but this book was super exciting. I’m also usually pretty good at guessing what might happen in a story, but I honestly had no clue with this one, which made it even better.

And then I should mention the text treatment. The entire novel is formatted as though every page were poetry, with very short line-lengths and good-sized leading (line spacing). It isn’t poetry—no rhyming or anything; it still reads like any other novel—but it looks and almost feels like poetry, which gives it a kind of natural rhythm and elegance.

The text is broken down into 8 chapters, and each chapter features a hot-potato approach to point of view—where characters take turns sharing information about what is happening and how they feel about it. I loved the switch between characters the most. I really wanted to see each character clearly, so I could see the big picture clearly, and the characters were so well-developed that it all just clicked. There isn’t a lot of flowery wordiness in this book, either. The author is very direct in his presentation of characters and information.

One other thought: For those who like absolutely squeaky clean books, this one does include a few glossed-over sex scenes—nothing too graphic or anything, but perhaps borderline. I don’t like this kind of material, but I thought the way it was presented made the characters and their situation more pronounced. At least the profanity, if there is any, is kept to a minimum.

So there you have it. A completely obscure novel called Cold Skin that has nothing to do with vampires and is actually quite worth the read. It struck my fancy, and it may strike yours, too. Check it out!

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