Mysterious Skin

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Overview

Opening in a small town in Kansas in 1981 - and at a seemingly innocent Little League baseball game - this haunting debut novel explores the ways people choose to interpret memory. At the age of eight Brian Lackey is found bleeding under the crawl space of his house, having endured something so traumatic that he cannot remember an entire five-hour period of time. During the following years he begins to recall details of that night, but these fragments of memory are not enough to explain what happened to him. When...
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Overview

Opening in a small town in Kansas in 1981 - and at a seemingly innocent Little League baseball game - this haunting debut novel explores the ways people choose to interpret memory. At the age of eight Brian Lackey is found bleeding under the crawl space of his house, having endured something so traumatic that he cannot remember an entire five-hour period of time. During the following years he begins to recall details of that night, but these fragments of memory are not enough to explain what happened to him. When he meets a woman who claims to have been abducted by a UFO he begins to believe that he, too, has been the victim of an alien encounter. Neil McCormick is fully aware of the events of that summer of 1981. Wise beyond his years, curious about his developing sexuality, Neil found what he perceived to be love and guidance from his baseball coach. Now, ten years later, he has become the town's pariah: a teenage hustler, a terrorist of sorts, unaware of the dangerous path his life is taking. His recklessness is governed by idealized memories of his coach, memories that unexpectedly change when Brian, searching for the missing time in his past, comes to Neil for help and, ultimately, the truth. Strange, beautiful, and of enormous imaginative scope, Mysterious Skin is about forgetfulness and loss, love and desire, danger and risk, and the ways we struggle to form an identity in a world that is often alien to us.
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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
Wrenching . . . powerfully sensuous.
Lambda Book Report
Provocative and daringly imagined...an especially noteworthy debut.
San Francisco Chronicle
Heim is breathtakingly unafraid to take chances, and the fact that he doesn't self-destruct in the process is one of the reasons he can rightly be called a promising author.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060926861
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/1/1996
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.34 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

The author of two novels and a volume of poetry, Scott Heim has written for numerous publications, including The Advocate, Village Voice, and Nerve.com. He lives in Boston.

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Read an Excerpt

Mysterious Skin

Blue

1981, 1983, 1987

Brain Lackey

The summer I was eight years old, five hours disappeared from my life. I can't explain. I remember this: first, sitting on the bench during my Little League team's 7 p.m. game, and second, waking in the crawl space of my house near midnight. Whatever happened during that empty expanse of time remains a blur.

When I came to, I opened my eyes to darkness. I sat with my legs pushed to my chest, my arms wrapped around them, my head sandwiched between my knees. My hands were clasped so tightly they hurt. I unfolded slowly, like a butterfly from its cocoon.

I brushed a sleeve over my glasses, and my eyes adjusted. To my right, I saw diagonal slits of light from a small door. Zillions of dust motes fluttered through the rays. The light stretched ribbons across a cement floor to illuminate my sneaker's rubber toe. The room around me seemed to shrink, cramped with shadows, its ceiling less than three feet tall. A network of rusty pipes lined a paint-spattered wall. Cobwebs clogged their upper corners.

My thoughts clarified. I was sitting in the crawl space of our house, that murky crevice beneath the porch. I wore my Little League uniform and cap, my Rawlings glove on my left hand. My stomach ached. The skin on both wrists was rubbed raw. When I breathed, I felt flakes of dried blood inside my nose.

Noises drifted through the house above me. I recognized the lull of my sister's voice as she sang along to the radio. "Deborah," I yelled. The music's volume lowered. I heard a doorknob twisting; feet clomping down stairs. The crawl space door slid open.

I squinted at the sudden light thatspilled from the adjoining basement. Warm air blew against my skin; with it, the familiar, sobering smell of home. Deborah leaned her head into the square, her hair haloed and silvery. "Nice place to hide, Brian," she joked. Then she grimaced and cupped her hand over her nose. "You're bleeding."

I told her to get our mother. She was still at work, Deborah said. Our father, however, lay sleeping in the upstairs bedroom. "I don't want him," I said. My throat throbbed when I spoke, as if I'd been screaming instead of breathing. Deborah reached farther into the crawl space and gripped my shoulders, shimmying me through the door, pulling me back into the world.

Upstairs, I walked from room to room, switching on lights with my baseball glove's damp leather thumb. The storm outside hammered against the house. I sat on the living room floor with Deborah and watched her lose at solitaire again and again. After she had finished close to twenty games, I heard our mother's car in the driveway as she arrived home from her graveyard shift. Deborah swept the cards under the sofa. She held the door open. A blast of rain rushed in, and my mother followed.

The badges on my mother's uniform glittered under the lights. Her hair dripped rain onto the carpet. I could smell her combination of leather and sweat and smoke, the smell of the prison in Hutchinson where she worked. "Why are you two still awake?" she asked. Her mouth's oval widened. She stared at me as if I wasn't her child, as if some boy with vaguely aberrant features had been deposited on her living room floor. "Brian?"

My mother took great care to clean me. She sprinkled expensive, jasmine-scented bath oil into a tub of hot water and directedmyfeet and legs into it. She scrubbed a soapy sponge over my face, delicately fingering the dried blood from each nostril. At eight, I normally would never have allowed my mother to bathe me, but that night I didn't say no. I didn't say much at all, only giving feeble answers to her questions. Did I get hurt on the baseball field? Maybe, I said. Did one of the other moms whose sons played Little League in Hutchinson drive me home? I think so, I answered.

"I told your father baseball was a stupid idea," she said. She kissed my eyelids shut. I pinched my nose; took a deep breath. She guided my head under the level of sudsy water.

The following evening I told my parents I wanted to quit Little League. My mother directed a told-you-so smile at my father. "It's for the better," she said. "It's obvious he got hit in the head with a baseball or something. Those coaches in Hutchinson don't care if the kids on their teams get hurt. They just need to cash their weekly checks."

But my father marshaled the conversation, demanding a reason. In addition to his accounting job, he volunteered as part-time assistant coach for Little River's high school football and basketball teams. I knew he wanted me to star on the sports fields, but I couldn't fulfill his wish. "I'm the youngest kid on the team," I said, "and I'm the worst. And no one likes me." I expected him to yell, but instead he stared into my eyes until I looked away.

My father strode from the room. He returned dressed in one of his favorite outfits: black coaching shorts and a little river redskins T-shirt, the mascot Indian preparing to toss a bloodstained tomahawk at a victim. "I'm leaving," he said. Hutchinson had recently constructeda new softball complex on the city's west end, and my father planned to drive there alone, "Since no one else in this family seems to care about the ball games anymore."

After he left, my mother stood at the window until his pickup became a black speck. She turned to Deborah and me. "Well, good for him. Now we can make potato soup for dinner." My father hated potato soup. "Why don't you two head up to the roof," my mother said, "and let me get started."

Our house sat on a small hill, designating our roof as the highest vantage point in town. It offered a view of Little River and its surrounding fields, cemetery, and ponds. The roof served as my father's sanctuary. He would escape there after fights with my mother, leaning a ladder against the house and lazing in a chair he had nailed to the space beside the chimney where the roof leveled off. The chair's pink cushions leaked fleecy stuffing, and decorative gold tacks trailed up its wooden arms. The chair was scarred with what appeared to be a century's worth of cat scratches, water stains, and scorched cavities from cigarette burns. I would hear my father above me during his countless insomniac nights, his shoe soles scraping against the shingles. My father's presence on the roof should have been a comfort, a balm against my fear of the dark. But it wasn't. When his rage became too much to handle, my father would swear and stomp his boot, the booming filling my room and paralyzing me. I felt as though he were watching me through wood and nails and plaster, an obstinate god cataloging my every move.

Deborah and I frequented the roof for other reasons. On that night, like most nights that summer, we carried two things there: a pair ofbinoculars and a board game. Our favorite was Clue. We unfolded it on the chair seat and sat cross-legged on the shingles. On the box cover, the six "suspects" relaxed before a ritzy fireplace. Deborah always picked the elegant Miss Scarlet. I alternated between Professor Plum and crotchety Miss Peacock. The candlestick was absent from the group of weapons, so I'd replaced it with a toothpick I'd plucked from the garbage, its surface pocked with my father's teeth marks.

As usual, Deborah clobbered me. She announced her verdict in a voice that echoed over Little River's homes: "Colonel Mustard, in the study, with the wrench."

On the other side of town, the lofty spotlights that circled the ball park flickered on. Little River's adult softball teams--"rinky-dinks" my father called them, and he refused to watch such amateurs--competed there three nights a week. It seemed as though half the population of Kansas belonged to some sort of ball team that summer. Between our turns at Clue, Deborah and I grabbed the binoculars and focused on the field. We watched the players' bodies as they jogged through the green quarter-circle of the outfield. We kept track of the score by zooming in on the electronic scoreboard at the left-field fence.

A cottonwood tree towered beside our house. The wind blew seeds loose from its inferno of branches as we solved our murders. By summer's core, the green pods were splitting, and white cotton tufts butterflied through the air to fall on the roof, the game board, our heads. We knelt beside the chair and waited for our mother to call us to dinner. Dusk swept its inks across the sky, and she finally stuck her head from the kitchen window and hollered, "Potatoes!"

"We get to eat without him," Deborah said. We left the roof, ran into the kitchen, and began to eat, the potato soup our conspiracy. My mother had thickened the soup with crumbled chunks of homemade zwieback, and as I spooned them into my mouth I stared at my father's empty chair. It loomed larger than the other three. I imagined he had swallowed an invisibility pill; we couldn't see him, but we could feel his presence. Mysterious Skin. Copyright ? by Scott Heim. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 37 )
Rating Distribution

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(25)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 38 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 5, 2008

    excellent writer, but sordid themes throughout

    Scott Heim is an excellent writer. For one thing, his attention to detail is great, like randomly mentioning boxes of cereal on a shelf that were common only in the 1960s. For another thing, his insights are all realistic, like how young gays disparage other gays out of social obligation, and how early underage porn used to consist of blurry photos produced in home darkrooms. Unfortunately the book's climax was predictable to me since it was the same memorable climax used in the film 'Freeway II' '1999'. It was a very clever climax, and I suppose since this book came out in 1995, four years before that movie, Scott Heim thought of it first, which is further credit to his writing ability, but that movie happened to spoil the book's ending for me. One minor complaint I have is the constant shifting between narrators. Although each section is labeled with the narrator's name, I initially thought that meant the section was about that character, not that it was written by them, so I started off being confused about who was whom. Another minor complaint is that the book is extremely sordid: gay male sex, gay male prostitutes, a violent gay male rapist, sleezy bars, adolescent crime, drugs, underage porn, poverty. I suppose that makes it even more realistic, but to me that made the book a real downer. Another minor complaint is that the self-induced memory block seemed pretty unrealistic to me. This book was recommended to me by one person who said it was their favorite book. For my taste though, the same insights, cleverness, and plot could have existed without all the sleeze.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2001

    Confusing and over-written

    I've certainly read better than this book. I had a hard time trying to understand what was going on and so many of the characters seemed all alike. Skip it.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 3, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim Brian Lackey wakes up in the craw

    Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim

    Brian Lackey wakes up in the crawl space of his house at age eight unable to remember what had transcribed in the last five hours after a little league baseball game. He's found by his sister Deborah.

    Brian's life is tormented by the memories of this event, first assuming he was abducted by an alien ship - encouraged to believe this by a lonely woman, Avalyn Friesen, who claims in a national TV program to be abducted herself, and who lives twenty miles from Brian's Little River, KS. She uses the situation to get inside Brian's pants....

    After graduating from High School, and with the help of the "secondary characters," Brian's memory starts to come back. He has to search for Neil McCormick, who was there on the night in question when Brian suffered his "episode." He befriends Eric Preston, himself in love with Neil, and with his help, the abduction theory slowly turns into a tale of sexual abuse that involves Neil and his Little League Coah - a story that has been hidden for ten years.

    The book travels from 1981 to 1991 in rural Kansas. Told from the first person point of view from most of the main characters - a fun way to offer different points of view - the book deals with one of the most heated topics of the century: sexual abuse by people in power. Whether they are coaches - as in this story - teachers, or priests, the abuse is characterized by people of authority who abuse their power to inflict pain and suffering to vulnerable children. The story is a metaphor for what that might look like. Neil and Brian are two eight year old boys who have been sexually abused by their Little League Coach, but their two reactions couldn't be more different. Neil has embraced his homosexuality when he meets the coach. His father is dead and his mother is a provocative though loving drunk. Neil fancies himself in love with the coach and readily submits to all that is asked of him. "What matters is how, for the first time in my life, I felt as if I existed 'for' something." p. 38

    Brian, on the other hand, is the product of a loving, mildly dysfunctional family. For Brian the experience is so painfully disturbing that he buries it in his subconscious, blacking it out so that as the years unwind he becomes fascinated with what happened to him during his "lost hours", eventually reaching the conclusion that he was abducted by aliens.

    Heim is a fine writer, a poet whose descriptions are often startling and beautiful. The book is an easy and delightful read in spite of its dark subject. It builds the stories of the two boys on parallel paths until they gradually converge. And Heim does a terrific job with secondary characters, showing how they influence and are touched by the protagonists in ways that are different but no less important than they first anticipated.

    This should be on the top one hundred books to read...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2014

    Deeply disturbing, but deeply profound.

    Deeply disturbing, but deeply profound.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2013

    AWEFUL

    NEVER EVER READ THIS BOOK!!! ITS ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTING!!!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2013

    Great read

    I felt like I was going 120 mph through this book. Normally for me, having multiple narrators are road blocks but I didn't mind the transitions here at all. This was a quick 2 day read that will not easily be forgotten.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2013

    Unlikable people behaving badly

    I cannot figure out how this got published. There wasn't a single likable character in this book. After reading it, all I could think was "What ISN'T wrong with Kansas?" Everyone is drunk, stone or mentally disturbed in every scene.

    An 8 year old child who enjoys being molested? Every gay character in this book is a peverted freak. I'm sorry I read this.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2012

    Heartbreaking

    The book brings to life the consequences of betrayal; its impact on the betrayed and those around him; with such discomforting insight• The movie puts a clear and honest visual - faces to the words• A must read for survivors as well as friends and family of any man or boy who has stood at the edge of humanity and peered into its dark abyss - and pondered where and how he fits into it all•

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  • Posted November 5, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    "You're not in Kansas anymore..."

    Although Scott Heim has written several excellent books, Mysterious Skin is his best. It was made into a movie several years ago that is also amazing. The book focuses on the separate lives of two teenagers living in Kansas who are very different but share a common past. The first, Neil, is a teenage prostitute who seems to not care about what has happened to him or where he's going. The second teenager, Brian, is a shy kid who is obsessed with UFOs and believes that he was abducted by aliens when he was young. As their two lives emerge, they discover the truth about the past they shared and how their different perceptions of the situation led them to different futures.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2007

    One of the best books I've read

    this book is wonderful! The topics are something that a lot of people do not wish to talk about, but this book takes you there and beyond. I actually felt what the characters were feeling. Its that good. I only wished that this story could keep going. Its a read that will fill you with emotions.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2006

    a heart-breaking and intense novel

    the minute i picked up this book i knew it was like no other. it made me laugh and made me cry. the story wonderfully portraits friendship, love and coming-of-age. i was sooooo sad when the book ended, i just wish it could have kept going. Every young adult who has trouble discovering his/her self should read this novel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2005

    Great read

    This book pulled me in and kept me interested till the final word. Very discriptive, painful and full of longing. Not for the faint of heart, this book is a truthful look at the way memories are perceived by these characters. This author is fearless.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2005

    Be open-minded and read this amazing tale!

    I love it. I don't need to say anymore except that this was an amazing story. I found this book one day when I came across the movie trailer. When I watched the minute-long preview, I was hooked. Luckly, my library owned the book and so I had the chance to read the book. I was currently looking forward in seeing the film but was shot down because.. 1. Can't find the DVD, not even on the internet. 2. The film isn't [ever] going to be shown in my state because of the 'taboo' told in the story and film.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2005

    Enamoured

    This book blew my mind. I expected it to be one thing and then it turned around, punching me in the face with the fact that it was something different, something better. This book is one the few titles I would actually recommend to others it's complete perfection. Heim's writing style is fluent and it just works.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2003

    its one of those books...

    it's one of those books that you read and you want it to go on forever so you can be captured in this amazing word drawn out for you by the author, you learn each character, and love them sometimes... and hate them others. you really *feel* this book it's amazing

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2001

    a fantastic story that left me too soon in tears

    I wasn't expeciting everything I got from this book - there were times when it caught me by surprise and took hold of parts of me that i was unaware of. each character, full of individuality and unique passions and fatal flaws, took me on difficult journeys around the events of these formative years in their lives, separated by so little time and space. i grew to love them all, for very different reasons. the narrative style is brilliant in an echo of the larger theme of the novel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2000

    Amazing

    This book was great. It left me disturbed, yet enlightened on the kind of sexual deviation that lays out there. An amazing story that is well told.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 1999

    great book!!!

    I really enjoyed the book... I never really realized any of this happened but it was very well told and a great book!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 38 Customer Reviews

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