Review

American Skin

by Ken Bruen



AMERICAN SKIN by Ken Bruen is a dark, hilarious nightmare of a book
that stretches genres and concepts. Bruen's work in general and
this novel in particular mines the dark places in the human psyche
where Cormac McCarthy so frequently visits, though from a different
side of the mirror. While McCarthy's work is almost unrelentingly
grim, AMERICAN SKIN is informed with a ferocious humor that has you
screaming both with laughter and in horror.


Bruen is not a native of the United States, but he is a keen and
canny observer of the landscape that most residents behold only
from moving vehicles whose windows are up and whose doors are
locked. AMERICAN SKIN is evocative of a number of novels ---
everything from William Burroughs's NAKED LUNCH to Leonard Cohen's
BEAUTIFUL LOSERS, from Norman Mailer's WHY ARE WE IN VIETNAM? to
James Joyce's ULYSSES --- with Bruen bouncing characters dead and
alive around time and distance in this tale of greed, love and
revenge, and the unintended consequences that result from
all.


Stephen Blake is the primary figure in this dark vision, a Galway
native who has reached a decent if rough middle age. His life
consists primarily of working in a CD store, romancing a lovely
bank clerk and drinking at a local pub. When given the opportunity
to participate in an IRA-related heist, Blake agrees, the result of
a deathbed promise and a misplaced and reluctant loyalty. Things,
we are informed early, go badly, but Blake and a conspirator gamely
carry on, with Blake traveling to the United States to execute the
rest of the plan in the somewhat unlikely locale of Tucson.


Blake's immigration is the first step that puts him on an
unforeseen and unintended collision course with an American
homegrown psychopath named Dade, a tightly wound chaotic force of
nature whose instinct inclines toward random acts of spontaneous
violence. Bruen goes deep into the psyche of each and all concerned
in AMERICAN SKIN, with a canny understanding of the inclination of
men toward violence and destructive relationships, and the
connections linking acts that at first blush appear
unrelated.


Ostensibly a stand-alone book, AMERICAN SKIN reaches a haunting
conclusion that may well be a prologue to a future event.
Regardless, this is a significant work loaded with memorable
characters, electrifying incidents and walking nightmares. Very
highly recommended.


   










Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 22, 2010

American Skin
by Ken Bruen

  • Publication Date: September 24, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 301 pages
  • Publisher: Justin, Charles & Co.
  • ISBN-10: 1932112472
  • ISBN-13: 9781932112474