Only Skin – Sean Ford (w/a)
Secret Acres, $21.95, ISBN: 978-0983166207
The story concerns two young siblings, Cassie and Clay, who return home to take over their family gas station business after their father has gone missing (presumed dead). The small town they come back to has changed, having had its air of civility shattered by a series of infidelities and a growing distrust in the local sheriff. Things come to a head when more people begin to disappear and body parts are found around town. The brother and sister become inextricably connected to all these events, and are haunted by what could be the ghost of their father, who guides them towards the uncomfortable truth that lies beneath the town’s naïve and quaint exterior.
There are obvious embers of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet in Ford’s work — particularly in the discovery of severed body parts — but the overall feel of the work is much more literary than it is cinematic. There are touches of Cormac McCarthy in the narrative, given the juvenile point-of-view that we see events from, and the jarring interjections of violence into the remote, isolated setting. Having such a serious tenor set for the story, it makes the interjection of the ghost — drawn like it’s straight out of a child’s notebook, with a white ragged sheet and two gaping black eyes — all the more puzzling and intriguing. From one perspective, we can see it as metaphorical, with the ghost really being a representation of the children’s past that they cannot escape, and their desperate wish to be reunited with their father. The origin of their names is made clear from the Cassius Clay poster that hangs prominently in his bedroom, and drives home the fragmentation of the family unit: Cassie, Clay; all that’s missing is “us,” a sense of family unity that they can never reclaim.
From a different perspective, we could read the ghost as a diversion into magical realism, and a manifestation of the children’s repressed thoughts of their father’s death. The dislocation we feel as a reader upon the ghost’s intrusion could be seen to be comparable to Cassie and Clay’s own feeling of disorientation and fear, having to survive in the world without the guidance and support of a family unit. Ford’s artistic style really helps to sell this central enigma and make it believable part of the narrative fabric. Using a clear line style for his characters, they tend toward the abstract and iconic, so the ghost’s simple rendering does not seem out-of-place, but wholly integrated.
Indeed, if there’s one constant in the book, it’s that unsettling feeling of loneliness and separation that permeates every line and every word. In Only Skin, Ford holds a mirror to our own anxieties and presents a world where the most terrifying thing is neither ghosts nor murderers, but our own insecurity.
-- Gavin Lees