Magic Helicopter Press
Review by Denton Loving
Jordaan Mason is a Canadian filmmaker, musician (Jordaan Mason and the Horse Museum) and writer (with work in UNSAID, The Scrambler, Everyday Genius, NOÖ Journal, and red lightbulbs). His debut novel, The Skin Team, is a dream-like story about a two boys and a girl—a love triangle of sorts—that is shaped by intense violence and energetic forces beyond understanding. In The Skin Team, Mason explores a number of subjects that include the shifting border between love and sex, as well as the noise and force of energy. What happens when we absorb too much power? And what happens when the lights go out?
First, there is a sick boy called Synesthesia. He describes his sickness to his doctor like this: “my stomach is going blind, I can’t taste anything except ash, do you think that I swallowed fire while I was sleeping, is that possible.” What he doesn’t share with his doctor but “what should be noted is the level of exploration that would happen…i.e. how my body found many ways to experience the energy depending on where I was in relation to the building.”
The building referenced here is the Power Company Building, where there has been a fire. The fire is both literal and metaphorical. It is tactile and sensory, dream-like and magical. It affects everything and everyone. And it consumes the lives of Synesthesia, as well as his two companions: Sarah, a girl who sleeps with horses, and Kinesthesia, a boy who follows Synesthesia through the woods. Synesthesia is sleeping with both Sarah and Kinesthesia, often on dirty mattresses in a very busy section of woods where boys in different colored shirts play a long game of hide and seek, one team constantly trying to make the other team It.
Mason plays with the idea of this threesome, depicting them over and over again in new ways. He writes:
three is the number of separate bodies in one coffin eventually, as all things come back together eventually, as all fluids and all solids are made up of parts eventually, as all cleaned houses are emptied or filled eventually, all skin eventually, wood eventually, a bug bit on your dog’s underside eventually, a power out. At some point in time, it will happen….All three are made up of other parts which are also fragments of the earth speaking with tongues too big for their mouths.
As that passage suggests, The Skin Team is simultaneously dense and abstract. Though Mason’s writing is filled with beautiful, tangible imagery, everything has double, if not triple, meaning. Though the subject of chronology is interestingly enough discussed in the narrative, the story itself is not linearly told. In these ways, each short passage often works as its own prose poem. And like poetry, which sometimes implies what can’t be literally described, Mason manages to suggest a story of experience in these pages that are mystical and memorable at the same time.
As if spoken in an aside to the reader, Mason writes, “it is terrifying, yes, that there seems to be no explanation for all of these things that happen, but it’s no good being scared of sleeping just because of what you may be doing in dreams.” When readers finish this tale, they will be so caught up in the language and the dream itself, they won’t mind if understanding is sometimes just beyond reach.
Denton Loving lives near the historic Cumberland Gap, where Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia converge. He serves as executive editor of drafthorse: the literary journal of work and no work. His writing has appeared in Cosmos, Literal Latte, Main Street Rag and in numerous anthologies. Follow him on twitter @DentonLoving.