Luscombe, Jeffrey, “Shirts and Skins”, Chelsea Station Editions, 2012
Coming-Out, Coming-of-Age, and Coming-to-Terms
I must start this review by saying thank you to Jameson Currier and his Chelsea House Editions. Everything that comes from the press is an excellent read and Currier has done quite a fine job with his press. With that said, there is another book to come from Chelsea Station and it is of the same fine quality as the rest of the publications. “Shirts and Skins” is a coming out story but with a new approach. Jeffrey Luscombe cleverly links several stories together to give us a look at Josh Moore who lives with his parents in the “wrong part of town” in Hamilton, Ontario. From the time he is young, Josh has been planning to find a better life away from the industrial life of his town but things never always work as planned. Even after moving to Toronto, he sees one never really leaves home and we all carry things with us no matter where we go.
I can almost hear people yelling, “Oh no, not another coming-of-age, coming-out story” and I agree that there are many but… this one is different. Aside from being written in beautiful prose there is something very special here that I cannot really define. It is something of a combination of familial tension and repression that bring us some beautifully drawn characters. All of us are, to some degree, tied to the past and have been influenced in the way we think by our families. I believe that we only recognize this when we begin to strike out for ourselves and begin to form an identity that is all our own (if, indeed there is such a thing).
Luscombe has the ability to take us inside his characters and shows us that sometimes what is not uttered can be quite powerful and even more powerful than that which is verbalized. It takes a writer who possesses insight and compassion to be able to relate this to us.
It is hard to believe that this is a first novel since it is not only well written but extremely intelligent. I could say more about the plot but I prefer to leave something for readers to see for themselves. It is not often that we get a new take on an old story, especially one that is as beautifully rendered as this. I am greatly impressed and anxious to see what else Luscombe can come up with. This is going to be a tough act to follow.