No longer the exclusive realm of outlaws, bikers, or jailbirds, tattoos are a rite of passage for many people. The role of the tattoo artist lies somewhere between that of a bartender and shaman: they are confidants who manifest people’s dreams, personal totems, and just-for-the-fuck-of-it notions in ink on skin, performing a task at once profound and mundane. Prick examines this practice through the first-person perspective of a fictional rookie tattooist. The book’s title is also a reference to a type of character – one that the narrative more than lives up to.
Eighteen year-old Anthony Young moves from Calgary to the picturesque streets of Victoria. There he begins an apprenticeship at Capital Tattoo under the thumb of a Henry Rollins-esque tough guy named Hank the Tank. For readers willing to indulge an interest in Canadian punk culture, the narrative is quite promising in its early stages, incorporating anecdotes that reveal the artist’s daily routine: tattooing Winnie the Pooh on the back of a jock or applying ink to another man’s penis.
But the book’s promise fades when Anthony discovers that Hank the Tank is not just an artist but also a member of the Lucifer’s Choice biker gang. In a series of poor decisions, Anthony finds himself sliding into Hank’s world of dope-dealing, dogfights, and occasional gang-bangs. This narrative turn suggests the discovery of a criminal plot, one that will result in our tattooist facing a physical or spiritual crisis. Such a crisis never materializes, however.
By the end of the book there are few boundaries Anthony hasn’t transgressed – from drugs to statutory rape to an unrepentant hit-and-run. But the novel remains nothing more than a catalogue of its protagonist’s bad behaviour. The only real uncertainty is whether, by the end, Anthony will find one last chance at redemption. By that point, however, the reader has very little reason to care.