Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim

Scott Heim portrays slowly recovering memory of trauma by fracturing it among the different characters, particularly the geek and the streetwise kid who later becomes a rent boy who said, ‘Hollywood would never make a movie about us.’ – which of course, they did. His parents return home at 3am and his mother saves cocktail umbrellas. One psychotherapist has suggested that the way the story unfolds is fairly typical of how people deal with traumatic memories, though our own psychotherapist member argues that every one is different in the way that they process information and family secrets.

The subject matter is such that many people would find this book harrowing but I found it, if not ‘entertaining’ absorbing. I did, however, find some Americanisms annoying, e.g. ‘crawl space’ and ‘to touch it (Neil’s hair) would be like touching corduroy’

One of our members read the whole book in one sitting because it was so engaging, another said that it was ‘beautiful and well-crafted.’ One member pointed out that the ‘moral landscape’ of this book mirrors the flat physical landscape of Kansas, where the story is set.

I shall never see folk who believe in UFOs or in devils in quite the same way again. What awful experience have they undergone that makes them believe so irrationally? Is abduction by aliens, one member asked, really to do with the abduction of memories?

The author avoids a ‘victims’ and ‘monsters’ scenario: the paedophile coach is portrayed as an immature adult and there is a telling juxtaposition, at the end, as the innocence of the Christmas carol ‘Silent night…….holy infant tender and mild’ sung outside contrasts with the recollection of innocence violated and stolen inside. One of the children was not completely innocent: ‘Half of me knew if wasn’t right, the other half wanted it to happen.’

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