George Hovis comes to the blog with his fiction debut, a story about finding your place and face in the world when all that defined you has shifted.
The Skin Artist
Bill is living a half-life, his marriage is dissolving before his eyes, his drinking is problematic, debts are increasing and he’s just lost his job. Not from the drinking or his general malaise, but the life he so carefully cultivated away from his shotgun shack poor family in the country has fallen from his grasp. To make matters worse, a neighbor and one he considered friend, is bringing the lightness back to his wife’s life, and their connection and relationship are impossible for him to ignore. The first part of this five—part tale is an introduction: we see all of Bill’s insecurities and coping mechanisms with clarity, and his inability to cope when one piece of the puzzle doesn’t quite fit.
Slowly and with occasionally painful or embarrassing moments, we see Bill’s slow slide into his new “skin”, from meeting a disgraced frat brother as the two of them share drunken escapades at a strip club, through his fumbling interactions with one of the dancers- tattoos covering her body, to meeting her ‘artist’ as he awakes in a still-drunken stupor to find a half-finished butterfly on his chest. Lucy (the dancer) and Niall (the artist) are both seekers of answers to their past, present and place in the world: combinations of fatalism, hope, conspiracy theories and a weirdly sensible explanations of alien-mind meld that ‘drives’ it all fall from Niall’s lips – a talented artist with little to no (actual) hesitations about tattooing a barely-standing-in-reality drunk in Bill. Lucy’s issues are far more ‘expected’ from someone who strips for a living, but it is her challenges to Bill’s belief of how things are meant to be, and a touch of predation where his naivete are concerned, that keep him enthralled, believing himself in love and important to her.
Through meeting his family and his ‘homecoming’ that is less prodigal son and more weighty with the shame (self-imposed) and the hard questions and judgments from his rather simple, hard working parents uncomfortable with his new friends and the drinking, Bill has plenty of moments to find his way, or his new face to present to the world, but it is the need he’s found in the tattoos from Niall, and the surety that Niall and Lucy, and even his strange reconnection with the childhood friend turned frat brother Kent that seem to keep him moving. Obsession with his soon-to-be ex-wife, his inability to function without drink or the siren’s call of the strip club, even his own descent into homelessness, his parent’s worries for his ‘influence’ on his younger brother and even his own awareness of his slide, it takes the deaths of his friend Kent and his grandfather to finally start to make an impression. There’s a grounded sense to all that he reaches for though: the convertible top of his car to bring in ‘air’, the deep breaths he takes to ‘breathe in the country’ when he heads toward where he grew up, even his desperate attempts to ‘find a grounding’ in the bamboo behind his cousin’s house with Niall, his search is circuitous and starts out as wholly selfish – giving nothing of himself to anyone BUT money – to the point when that is gone and listening, friendship and just being Bill – minus all of the city polish and loosening of the iron-fisted grip on the changes he made to disguise or bury his upbringing all seem to find a fit within him. Tattooed, having grown up and found some purpose in it all, and putting the drink aside all help to bring this growth spurt to an end. Hovis’ writing is lyrical and clear – we aren’t asked to ‘feel bad’ for Bill, but to see him (and the others) in all their humanity – warts and all, as we hope for them to find a way to pull it together and use all they have learned to make changes that they want and need. Gripping, solidly southern and wholly readable, the story clearly presents the people and their lives, shares their wishes, hopes, dreams and nightmares, and leaves the sense of a future open to interpretation.
Title: The Skin Artist
Author: George Hovis
Genre: Contemporary Fiction - Adult, Literary Fiction, Southern
Published on: 7 May, 2019
Source: Publisher Via Edelweiss
Get Your Copy: Amazon ♦ Barnes&Noble ♦ IndieBound
The morning Bill Becker awakes to find the butterfly tattoo, its wings poised for flight upon his chest, he is aroused and terrified by the itch of new possibilities-and addictions, including Lucy, the tattooed dancer who leads him on a quest for self-understanding. Both Lucy and Bill wrap themselves in new skins of ink, wrought by the same artist, a "shaman" who convinces them that every design will alter their futures.
Exiled from his corporate life and from the failed marriage he left behind in a gated community, Bill journeys through the dark side of Charlotte, North Carolina, where he meets con artists and displaced hillbillies, each of them seeking transformation in the Queen City. Ultimately, Bill confronts the necessity to leave the city in search of his rural roots. There he must come to terms with his estranged family and with the skin he shed many years ago.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher Via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.