Author: Christian Baines
Genre: Horror, Fantasy
LGBTQ+ Category: Gay
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Word Count: 45,000
Kyle, a young newcomer to New Orleans, is haunted by the memory of his first lover, brutally murdered just outside the French Quarter. Marc, a young Quarter hustler, is haunted by an eccentric spirit that shares his dreams, and by the handsome but vicious lover who shares his bed. When the barrier between these men comes down, it will prove thinner than the veil between the living and the dead…or between justice and revenge.
Review by Andrew:
Baines’ slim novel Skin channels Voodoo folklore, Gothic horror, and hustler drama, and nips at the edges of fantasy, though I’d characterize the book as dark fiction with surrealistic storytelling elements, in the vein of M. Night Shyamalan’s filmography and Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. It reminded me of a ghost story and as such takes a fresh approach with characters and situations that will have appeal to fans of gay fiction.
Baines establishes the story’s tone in a horrifying opening scene: Antoine, a New Orleans drag queen, is sodomized and murdered by a gay basher on the streets of New Orleans. He leaves behind the story’s co-protagonist Kyle, who thought he had found in Antoine his first true romantic connection with another gay man. Kyle enters the story as a lost soul with baggage beyond Antoine’s death. Escaped to New Orleans from a homophobic, rural town in Louisiana, he pursues what seems to be only occupation available to him: gogo dancing at a seedy club where dancers take johns into a curtained back room for extra money.
An interwoven story follows Marc and Ash, who are also denizens of the club. Marc’s backstory is similar to Kyle’s: a country boy struggling to stay afloat in the big city. He’s deeply insecure about his gayness and his skinny body. When another dancer Ash offers to split the rent at his crash pad, Marc jumps at the opportunity. Marc is quickly swallowed into Ash’s violent and chaotic lifestyle and falls in love with the gay-for-pay, walking time bomb. This is a story that pulls no punches in portraying the realities for people living on the margins, and Marc and Ash’s violent sexual encounters are hard to read at times.
New Orleans is the perfect setting for a gritty tale with the suggestion of the supernatural, and I thought Baines did a solid job rendering the places and the mood of that world, from hustler bars and subdivided, dilapidated row houses, to Voodoo shops and tattoo parlors, urban commercialism engulfing faded grandeur. His writing is straightforward and effective, enabling action scenes to pop, pulling the reader from one scene to the next, and casting a cinematic flair on the story.
Homophobia and transphobia are ever-present themes and truly the driving force of the narrative. Both Kyle and Marc are in a battle against their own natures, while Ash cannot contain his hatred of male effeminacy (nor dark-skinned folks), and Antoine pays a brutal price for his more resolved gender expression and gayness. It’s disturbing subject matter, but doing the work of a good storyteller, Baines shows us something true about the world, and some truths are indeed raw and terrifying.
Andrew is an award-winning author, an educator, and an activist. His novel The City of Seven Gods won the 2017 Silver Falchion Award (Best Horror/Fantasy) and was a finalist in the 2016 Foreword INDIES (Best Sci Fi/Fantasy). He is also the author of the Werecat series, Poseidon and Cleito, and two books for young adults: The Seventh Pleiade and Banished Sons of Poseidon. For more about Andrew, visit: http://andrewjpeterswrites.com, follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ayjayp, and like his page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/andrewjpeterswrites. Oh, and he’s a Hufflepuff.