Thursday, August 7, 2008

Book Review: Ken Bruen, American Skin (2006)

I wanted to like American Skin much more than I did. Its (black) heart is in the right place, but it badly needs a good editor. The plot develops largely in flashbacks prompted by the free associations of its characters, and these sometimes redundant intrusions prevent the plot from ever gaining the momentum that it should. Perhaps more annoying, though, is the way that the book is slavered in pop-culture references for the sake of pop-culture references. For example, one of the book's major characters is so obsessed with Tammy Wynette that he will brutalize anyone who dares to insult her. We are told that he became a fan of "Tammy" (he thinks of her by her first name, just as another character is on a first-name basis with Bruce Springsteen) while in prison, but that is pretty much all we are told to help us understand the significance of his obsession with her. As well, we are given little help in understanding the resonance of the many Tammy Wynette songs whose names are mentioned in passing. Of course, the problem may be that my pop-culture IQ is too low to appreciate what Ken Bruen is up to--but I doubt it. Grade: D+

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