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Skin Folk

by Nalo Hopkinson

Skin Folk is the first collection of short stories from Toronto’s Nalo Hopkinson, whose novels Brown Girl in the Ring and Midnight Robber earned her a number of science-fiction awards, including the Philip K. Dick Award and the Hugo and Nebula Awards. The 15 stories collected here, like the best of Hopkinson’s work, play with the skins of false appearances, convention, racism, and human – or not so human – hunger.

In the “Glass Bottle Trick,” self loathing has dire consequences for the light-skinned wife, and dearly departed wives, of a too-good-to-be-true dark skinned husband who’s been keeping a few secrets bottled up. “Riding the Red” reinterprets Little Red Riding Hood as a coming of age tale told by the grandmother. And in “Snake,” the popular fairy tale motif in which an animal helps a child to overcome evil, is transplanted into a child-stalker’s world where the birds come home to roost for the would-be murderer.

Hopkinson’s lucid writing is rooted in action, and is richly folded with multiple meanings and understandings. The stories’ characters, in spite of the surrounding fabulist conventions, are ultimately believable and compelling, drawing readers into their struggles against often incredible but real human challenges. Our hope never falters for their ability to survive and grow.

Only one story breaks the smooth narrative flow in Skin Folk. “Tan-Tan and Dry Bone,” a retelling in Caribbean dialect of the tale of Anansi and Dry Bone, would have been more at home in a collection of folk tales. Interesting in itself as a modern retelling of a traditional tale, the story feels out of place alongside these fast-paced, often futuristic, narratives.