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Book Reviews

Skin Hound (There Are No Words)

by Kenneth J. Harvey

Nothing grabs attention like skin. Publications as far-flung as L.A. Weekly have noted Newfoundland writer Kenneth Harvey’s stunt of using bits of his own skin grafted onto homemade paper in promotional samples of his new novel Skin Hound. While the stunt may have turned a few heads – and stomachs – a gimmick Harvey utilized in writing the book might be more worthy of attention. Harvey has excerpted his own journals to give a “tender side” to his protagonist. This flirtation with reality, with the “truth,” is central to Skin Hound.

The novel consists of conversations between Patient X, a former English professor incarcerated in a mental ward, and two men: a detective and psychiatrist, both of whom seek the truth behind a series of murders X may have committed, including those of his wife and children. Interspersed with the conversations are X’s journal entries. For reasons of his own, X wishes to obscure the nature of his involvement in the murders. He claims responsibility but refuses to provide details that will confirm his guilt.

The story, then, hinges on what is truth and what is fiction, both in X’s retellings and in the general construction of the book. X’s journals are intentionally misleading – he has taken what he has read about the killings in newspapers and added invented details of his own. Similarly, readers might search in vain for clues as to which are Harvey’s “true” journal sections within the narrative.

Unfortunately, the reader’s rewards for these efforts are slim. Amidst vivid but gratuitously brutal descriptions of rapes and murders, Patient X’s contempt for his interrogators begins to seem suspiciously like Harvey’s contempt for his readers. Both X and Harvey have so compromised their reliability that the question of guilt or innocence matters little.

Other writers – Thomas Pynchon, Robert Coover – have successfully taunted readers into re-examining literary forms, and some have even used brutality and absurd sexuality to highlight the voyeurism involved in fiction. But Harvey’s taunting seems to be for its own sake. For such thin pleasures, readers should be spared the time and effort.


Reviewer: Adam Sol

Publisher: The Mercury Press


Price: $18.95

Page Count: 224 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 1-55128-083-3

Released: Sept.

Issue Date: 2000-8

Categories: Fiction: Novels