Mysterious Skin

Mysterious Skin

by Scott Heim


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060841690
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/10/2005
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 499,396
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.68(d)

About 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 He lives in Boston.

Read an Excerpt

Mysterious Skin


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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Mysterious Skin 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 41 reviews.
lizzielou on LibraryThing 29 days ago
scott is brilliant, and my friend, and i love this dark, wise, and difficult book.
Bembo on LibraryThing 29 days ago
Initially I found it confusing with the different characters relating the story (I know, I should read the chapter headings more carefully), but the developing tale gradually became interesting. As events began to come together, the characters really came to life, and the story became enthralling, and the finale very moving.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read through all of the depressing stuff...just to get to an end like that. Ugh...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
carlosmock More than 1 year ago
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 More than 1 year ago
Deeply disturbing, but deeply profound.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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 More than 1 year ago
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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iluvvideo More than 1 year ago
Two eight year old boys are molested by their Little League baseball coach and take different paths to discover the truth. Neil becomes a teenage gay hustler with a taste for older men. He has few friends and fewer confidants. Brian 'loses' any trace of what happened with the coach and believes he was a victim of a UFO abduction. They seem to be on an eventual collision course in search of the truth. Brian uncovers the true events on that terrible day long ago and Neil's participation. Neil discovers that maybe sex with the coach was not quite the idealized, romantic encounters that he remembers. Both young men seem to be at a crucial point in their lives. How can they reconcile what happened so long ago and how it affects their current attitudes towards friends and love. The graphic subject matter is not for the easily disturbed. Graphic sex, language and violent situations occur throughout the story. But they are not meant to shock, but simply to allow us to experience as close as possible these events in both boys lives. Mr Heim does a masterful job. Both sides of the story are told with equal import. Neither seems sensationalized. Unfortunately, the subject matter may limit the audience to read this book. I found it cathartic, a triumph of the human spirit in spite of some terrible events. The end comes too soon. I want to see both these young men move forward with their lives having finally put the past behind them.
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