A review of

Skin

by Kellie Wells

Central question: Is our pain God’s Eucharist?
Format: 248 pp., cloth; Size: 5-1/2" x 8-1/2"; Price: $27.95; Publisher: University of Nebraska Press; Editor: Ladette Randolph; Print run: “Fewer than 5,000”; Book design: Richard Eckersley; Typeface: Carter & Cone Galliard; Series title: Flyover Fiction; How the author got her start: writing thirty-second segments for a public television channel; How the author paid for graduate school: “Get the Hell out of the Midwest” Fellowship, stipulating she go to school either east of the Alleghenies or west of the Rockies; Representative sentence: “I contend that despite the hype death is no more natural than NutraSweet or the breasts of starlets.”

In her first novel, Skin, Kellie Wells tackles theological questions of eschatological proportions within the complicated web of What Cheer, a small town in Kansas. God peeks through the clouds with ominous and alarming force, knocking men to their knees and demanding nourishment with insatiable hunger. What Cheer’s residents live in a violent, premillennial reality where the only spiritual peace is inside your skin, below the veins and obscured by body tissue.

Wells eschews chronological narrative form, jumping through her characters’ lives with a different kind of arc. Their futures mix with their pasts, creating a chaotic present without a clear protagonist. Instead, a cast of interconnected sinners trapped in various physical, philosophical, and emotional purgatories trades leads. Degrees of pain flirt with pleasure in a way that is just barely tolerable yet undeniably compelling.

The prologue sets the tenor for the body of the novel. Wells begins by describing the intoxicating scent of gardenia hanging in the air. The smell is so powerful it makes her characters forget what the body is reasonably capable of and the language so crisp it makes her readers forget to question rationally impossible plot twists. Within the first two pages Rachel wills herself to shrink, her daughter Ruby dreams of the day she will let her mother relax in the safety of a pocket, and Zero floats into the sky until his body becomes merely a “matter of faith.”

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Rebecca Turnbull

Rebecca Turnbull was born in Boston but now lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her home often houses more bikes than people.

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