In Lee Martins’ Break the Skin, Laney Volk is a lonely and awkward teenager from Mt. Gilead, Illinois. She is at odds with her mother because she can’t accept her beautiful singing voice, refusing to parlay her talent into a scholarship and a college degree. Working at the local Wal-Mart, she is befriended by Delilah Dade, a troubled and much older woman who invites Laney to live in her trailer along with a third roommate, Rose McAdow- dark, brooding and a novice practitioner of black magic. Damaged, insecure and having endured broken homes, poverty and bad relationships, the women are a needy bunch; the dynamic of their relationships intense and constantly shifting. Throw an attractive man in middle of that volatility, and you are sure to get fireworks…or murder. Meanwhile in Denton, Texas, Miss Baby is earning a living as a tattoo artist, but desperation forces her into a relationship with a mysterious man who is somehow linked to the ladies of Mt. Gilead.
One of the most impressive aspects of Break The Skin is how much the author cares about his characters, makes them real beings, and makes it hard not to have compassion for them and their circumstances. Bad things happen in this novel (murder, manipulation, threats, violence), but not least of all the environments and circumstances shaping these character’s lives, making it inconceivable for them to make the smart and healthy choices. Break The Skin is beautifully and feelingly written, and it doesn’t let go for a minute, alternating as it does between the equally compelling and drama-filled narratives of Laney and Ms. Baby. This dark tale of good girls gone bad is nearly impossible to put down once Martin starts weaving his spell, exposing the tragedy and the humanity in the wreck of these lives. Highly recommended.