Also by this author: The Promise, The Drummer Boy, Sinner, Green, The Dream Traveler's Quest, Into the Book of Light, The Curse of Shadownman, The Garden and the Serpent, The Final Judgment, Millie Maven and the Bronze Medallion
Published by Thomas Nelson on April 3, 2007
Genres: Fiction, Christmas, Horror, Suspense, Thriller
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A freak storm has spawned three tornadoes that are bearing down on the town of Summerville.
Yet under the cover of the storm looms a much more ominous threat: A vindictive killer known as Red who's left a string of victims in his wake and is now bent on exacting his final revenge on the unsuspecting town.
But there is an enigma surrounding Red that the FBI is unwilling to admit-closely guarded secrets of something gone terribly wrong beneath the skin of Summerville. Secrets that will destroy far more than one small town.
Wendy Davidson is caught in the middle. She's a recovering cult survivor who takes refuge in Summerville on her way to visit her estranged mother. And with her, four strangers, any of whom could be the next victim . . . or the killer.
I was about thirty pages into Skin the very first time I read it—the day it released—when I began to have this sense of déjà vu. We’ve been here before, haven’t we?
- A group of people
- with secretive/traumatic pasts
- are drawn to a supernatural-esque location
- where they are hunted by a serial killer
- who tells them they have to kill one member of the group
- and the theme is about the ugliness/sinfulness inside us all.
This is the same general plot as House, co-authored with Frank Peretti, that released just a month before this one. It even starts with a main character being involved in a car crash. I’ve no idea if Skin was the House story Ted wanted to write, but it certainly seems like it. The good? It’s a better overall story than House. The bad? Not by much. While Skin telegraphs its theme more clearly, it’s still haphazardly applied to a frenetic plot that uses the lamest of tropes as a mind-blowing twist. Dekker probably could have pulled it off had it been developed into the storyline and had some form of resolution, but as it is, it comes across as all shock and no substance.
Skin is the story of five people being chased by a killer:
- Wendy, who has recently escaped from cult.
- Colt, whose mother was a prostitute and thought he was ugly.
- Nicole, a former child model who may have killed her parents.
- Carey, Nicole’s brother who dabbled in the occult.
- Jerry, who is a big-time gamer
Or, rather, facing a killer who is taunting them into killing “the ugliest” of them all. All the while, tornadoes have made the town inaccessible and something supernatural-seeming is happening because reality definitely doesn’t seem real. You can also add in a murder of Dr. Timothy Healy and the disappearance of his son into the mix. Skin basically is constructed of the various characters yelling at each other and getting scared while navigating the not-quite-real world of Summerville. You keep expecting for it to all come together, and it does, sloppily at the end in an epilogue that explains the whole novel you just read.
None of the characters—what had been Ted’s best quality—have much depth or background, leaving readers confused about who the ugliest actually is. That’s the whole problem with the book. The central premise of Red’s game is to find and kill the ugliest. But we have no substantive background on any character. Ironically, in a book about transcending the skin of this world, we’re treated to superficial characterization and an ex machina plot trying to explain a pretty deep and nuanced philosophy of healing.
As far as the prose…well…this is the opening lines of what will turn out to be a third-person narrated novel: “When the rain isn’t so much falling—be it in bucket loads or like cats and dogs—but rather slamming into the car like an avalanche of stone, you know it’s time to pull over.” Skin, like other Dekker novels of this time period, has a habit of telling rather than showing. This line is forgivable if it’s coming in the context or mindset of a character, telling us about who they are and how they think, but it isn’t—this is from the third-person narrator’s perspective, making it clunky and awkward.
And then, we get to the twist. 2006 was the start of the Books of History Chronicles. Dekker was building a shared universe for his characters. The end of Skin reveals that the events of the book took place inside a VR video game. The game began “in the deserts of a world far away fighting the Horde,” referencing the events and characters of Other Earth in Dekker’s Circle Trilogy and Lost Books series. (The SKIN simulation would be heavily featured in the YA novel Renegade.) But the game got highjacked and Summerville was created. It’s a connection that creates inconsistencies. Does it imply that Other Earth is a simulation? When the novel closes, we get a hint that the players are still in the Skin virtual reality. Is that the case? What’s Dekker trying to say?
Fifteen years after Skin, Dekker would write a novel called Play Dead, also exploring virtual reality and asking Matrix-esque questions about the reality of this world. What Skin attempts, Play Dead accomplishes. Dekker’s entire career has been about using fiction—a type of virtual reality—to talk about what’s really real in our own world and cause us to question if our notions of reality and how we experience it are correct. What if, Dekker asks, there’s more than just this?
Skin may be a bit of a mess, but it’s the result of Dekker working through some poignant themes that he, with time, is able to clarify and fictionalize. It also tries too hard to be attached to the Circle. At this point, Dekker didn’t need everything to be attached to his most popular product to get people to buy it. Skin clutters and contradicts the Books of History universe, leaving more questions than answers and never really explaining itself. As it appears to have been written in conjunction with House, I sort of look at those novels as twins—neither of which I feel met the goals or preached the message it was attempting.