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Out of My Skin

by Tessa McWatt

It’s rare that a reader is privileged with a protagonist as authentic as Daphne Baird. Tessa McWatt’s debut, Out of My Skin, makes us painfully aware of Daphne’s confusion as she searches for her identity among the lost tribes of contemporary urban life, in the diary pages of her lunatic Guyanese grandfather, and from the fictions of her adoptive Canadian parents.

Daphne’s sudden escape from Toronto to Montreal sparks a quest. A 30-year-old childlike woman, she has spent her life trying to duck the question “What are you?,” meaning what are your cultural roots? In an effort to discover where she belongs, Daphne becomes a voyeur of other people’s lives.

Out of My Skin takes place during the summer of the Oka crisis. While Daniel, Daphne’s boss at a photocopy shop is burning Indian effigies, Joanne, a fellow employee, is encouraging political correctness for all the wrong reasons. Surefoot, Daphne’s new-found friend and fellow orphan, is acting as a go-between. Daphne remains on the sidelines, increasingly aware of the tension between the clean literary Hiawatha stereotype of Indians she was raised with and the historical and cultural issues leading to rioting on the Mercier Bridge.

After locating her only living relative, Daphne is given her grandfather’s diaries and through them, learns the bitter story of her own existence and her real family name – Eyre. Each step forward on this journey of discovery is irrevocable. It erases another layer of the mythology Daphne has created for herself but ultimately brings her to a deeper understanding and acceptance of her place in the world.

McWatt’s style is direct and pointed. Her language is fresh and reads with an uncommon vibrancy. The use of tight and uncomfortable juxtapositions of time and space are beautifully crafted and clearly transmit Daphne’s internal chaos. Out of My Skin is written the way the mind works; wafting in and out of the present moment, into memory and imagination. A rich, complex, and evocative first novel, Out of My Skin is precisely researched and sensitively written.


Reviewer: Catherine Jenkins

Publisher: Riverbank Press


Price: $19.99

Page Count: 224 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 1-896332-08-0

Released: Aug.

Issue Date: 1998-8

Categories: Fiction: Novels