Sunday, October 26, 2014

American Skin by Don DeGrazia

A Chicago kid trying to survive joins a band of skinheads

One day, Alex Verdi, a blond Italian American, walks down the halls of his high school and is surprised to see a cop going through his locker. Knowing his dad is a small town pot dealer, Alex hightails it for home, hiding in the woods and witnessing the police ransacking his house. Later he learns mother and father have been arrested, and little sister put in foster care. Instead of coming forward, Alex hitchhikes a ride to Chicago and gets an anonymous awful job in a plating factory. He is involved in a fist fight on the subway, and a rainbow coalition of skinheads, led by the impressive Timothy Penn, saves him. Alex moves into the skinheads' communal housing/dance club, becomes a bouncer, starts a romance with the beautiful biracial ass kicking Marie. Further adventures follow until Alex's world is righted.

American Skin starts off wonderfully and I was really sucked in by the narrative tension and the writing. Getting Alex from the country to gritty Chicago and the lively building where all the "good" skinheads live and party was great. But then the story starts to stall and plot contrivances, melodramatic love scenes, and creaky "crazy skinhead" set pieces, do nothing to take the book out of its stall. That might be a common problem for debut novelists. Characters are introduced and dropped, the action is moved forward but nothing really feels motivated. Things stop making sense. Suddenly Alex and Timmy are in prison, part of a white supremacist gang. Huh? The prose, however, was consistently interesting.

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