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SKIN DEEP by Diana Wagman


by Diana Wagman

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-87805-982-2
Publisher: Univ. Press of Mississippi

 A first novel with a fascinating concept falters when it leaves the main premise behind to examine less interesting byways. Twenty-eight-year-old Martha Ward answers an ad that reads ``Wanted: Woman to talk to. Three nights a week. Three hundred dollars a night.'' For Martha, life has become an endless, uneventful endurance test. She has few friends and little responsibility; she's divorced from husband Allen--their-eight- year-old daughter Jewel lives with him and his new wife--and she has nothing much to do but show up for her inexplicable job as a topless waitress. Intrigued by the ad, she answers it and is given very precise instructions: go to a pre-reserved hotel room and put on a blue sweatsuit, blue gloves and socks, and a blue masked hood, thereby totally obscuring her physical presence. The man who placed the ad, Dr. Hamilton, wants to talk about beauty. Invigorated by her anonymity and their discussions, Martha grows to depend on the meetings as the arena in which she can be herself. Revealing to Dr. Hamilton her sad childhood--unloved by a superficial and fickle father, forever out of sync with her beautiful, mentally ill mother--Martha discusses the expectations and pitfalls of beauty. Meanwhile, she begins an affair with hunky Latino actor Reuben, a sweet guy who's obsessed with appearance. When, in quick succession, Reuben leaves her and the doctor ends their sessions, Martha is devastated--though the novel takes yet another unexpected turn before the abrupt close. Provocative issues of appearance and reality are raised here, but Wagman does little with them, dodging deeper matters by letting Martha's relationships with Reuben and flashbacks to her childhood dominate the story. A disappointing debut from screenwriter Wagman, especially considering its intriguing initial idea.