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BREAK THE SKIN by Lee Martin


by Lee Martin

Pub Date: June 14th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-71675-0
Publisher: Crown

A crime of passion, thought to be committed by a traumatized Vietnam veteran, links a lovesick Illinois girl with an equally needy young Mexican-American woman in Texas.

Laney, a shy and scrawny 19-year-old, works at a Wal-Mart in a small town in southeastern Illinois. She shares a trailer with two workmates: sultry Delilah, a perennially mistreated loser at love now approaching 40, and Rose, "a big woman with a big heart" suspected of practicing witchcraft. Things are looking up when Delilah, who packs a .38 Special, romantically targets a bar-band rocker named Tweet. But when Tweet takes up with Rose, all hell breaks loose. The Vietnam vet, for whom Laney falls, is Lester, Tweet's bow-legged, sweet-tempered roadie, who is so haunted by his killing of innocent civilians during the war that he enters fugue states of memory loss. One of them takes him to Denton, Tex., where Betty Ruiz, “Miss Baby,” the owner of a tattoo shop, claims him off the street. She convinces him his name is Donnie True and they're a couple. They fall in love for real and plan their future together. But they, too, are engulfed by violence when her brother Pablo is punished for stealing money from Slam Dent, his partner in a cattle-stealing scheme. Told in flashback through the alternating voices of Laney and Miss Baby, the book overdoes its tattoo metaphor in evoking "lives festering just beneath the skin." But Martin, whose kidnap novel The Bright Forever (2005) was a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in fiction, expertly applies shades of James Cain–like noir to a modern story that might have been inspired by one of the Lucinda Williams songs on this book's soundtrack. Black magic, daughters cursed by the loss or absence of their fathers, post traumatic stress syndrome, small-town secrecy and lies, pre-teen voyeurism: Welcome to life "on the other side of right thinking."

An intoxicating small-town thriller that quickly gets under your skin.