Baines, Christian, “Skin”, Christian Baines, 2020.
Kyle is a young newcomer to New Orleans (my home town) who is haunted by the memory of Marc, his first lover who was brutally murdered just outside the French Quarter. Marc had been a young Quarter hustler and who was also haunted but by an eccentric spirit that shared his dreams and by a handsome but lover who shared his The city of New Orleans is a character in the story as well. Writer Christian Baines knows New Orleans and shows us that side from the usual things that we associate with the Big Easy— Mardi Gras, jazz, the food and culture, ghosts and voodoo, it is home to an underbelly that is seedy and unique.
The story is told in alternating points of view and while this, at times, I confusing, it keeps the reader on his toes and guessing. It takes a while to get into the pot and when the reveal comes, it comes swiftly and makes the entire story comprehensible. There is a totally unanticipated final plot twist that brings together the strangeness and formerly not understood aspects of the story.
If you are looking to read a romance, this is not a book for you. There are few boundaries left uncrossed as Baines exposes the good and the bad of New Orleans while also showing us the uniqueness that is the city’s trademark. I have always felt like a New Orleanian wherever I have lived and there have many instances when I have missed living there.
We meet some really awful people in “Skin”— racists, homophobes, misogynists, potty-mouth violent characters and I found it hard finding someone to cheer on. Kyle is the opposite of a hero and Marc is so elusive that we really do not get to know him. I began to feel an affinity for one of the characters but he met an early and violent death.
This is a story of murder and revenge and creating his novel, Baines uses his characters to represent aspects of society we would hope were not part of society. Bigotry plays a big role here. I found moments of real discomfort as I read but that adds to both the story and the real picture of many New Orleanians. This is also a story of Voodoo and gay issues. Erotica hovers above and throughout the story. We go into the sexuality of each of the characters and read of their bodies and genitals and the effects these have on others. We have beaucoup stereotypes and it is the characters including the city that give us this tale of voodoo and homophobia.
I have heard comments that some readers find the characters to be two-dimensional with no saving grace and my remark to that is, “how many people do we all know like that?” They may not play a role in our lives but they exist in every society and in this I see the reason for their inclusion.
The erotica is well written and I argue that the lack of emotionally driven characters is intentional and they are these for a purpose. It is up to each reader to discover what that purpose is.