Initially, I was captivated by the residents of fictional What Cheer, Kansas, in Kellie Wellsí novel Skin. Each new chapter introduces a new character, a new narrator, a new point of view. Wells writes with a skillful lyricism. Her words flow so well that it took me quite a while to realize that the stories didnít flow together at all.
Each chapter is named for the character that is narrating and subtitled for the action that is going to happen. This ever-changing perspective keeps Skin interesting and fresh for the first half. The residents of What Cheer are diverse, interesting, and each beautiful in their own way, including Ivy Engle, a teenager who finds the tree in her yard filled with bats. Ivyís best friend, Duncan, has recently begun what is called chromotherapy, and he matches the color of his clothes to the effect heís trying to get. When he is diagnosed with a rare disease, he takes to wearing all blue, since blue is supposed to be a healing color.
Ivyís neighbor Ansel Dorsett is a minister going through a midlife crisis. Unfortunately, the midlife crises in his family donít end with the purchase of a Corvette or an extramarital affair. His father succumbed to nothingness - he stopped feeling his limbs, and the nothingness moved inward until he stopped feeling at all. Anselís neighbor is an elderly woman named Mrs. McCorkle. Though Mrs. McCorkle has the gift of sight with other people, she canít see the truth about her own husband, who lives in a nursing home. Instead, she believes that she has killed her husband.
And then there is the Loomis family. Rachel grew up with a father who measured his love with physical violence. Rachelís children are Ruby Tuesday, a child who can dream fruit out of her body, and Zero, who knows of alien abductions, real angels, and can shed his flesh and float above his bed.
Each chapter in Skin is a small vignette relating to one of the aforementioned characters. A little over halfway through the book, I started to realize that the stories arenít connected in any way, other than all of the characters living in the same place and the ever-present themes of absurdity and existentialism. Each of the chapters/stories, taken by themselves, is enjoyableÖ odd, but readable. Not much happens in the way of plot development, but each story shows a character searching for answers to life, and finding things completely out of the normal range.
As touched on previously, Kellie Wells writes with a beautiful command of the English language. At times the stagnant action willed me to put down the book, but it was the poetical words that kept me reading. Because the narrative changes so often, the book feels fresher than it really is. If Skin had been marketed as a collection of short stories, Iíd be much more inclined to recommend it. Unfortunately, as a novel, it remains disjointed, unconnected and leaves me unable to recommend it.