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Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim
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Mysterious Skin (1995)

by Scott Heim

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Original post at Book Rhapsody.

***

Intro

The reason I bought this book is my utter love for its film adaptation. I don’t even remember how I got my hands on the film or how I got word of it, but I am glad that I did anyway. Whenever I am asked to enumerate on the spot my favorite films of all time, I never fail to include the book’s film adaptation with the same title.

And ever since I watched this film, I have been fixated with the lead actor, Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

So yes, when I found a copy of the novel where the movie is based from in a second-hand book store, I did not hesitate to buy it. I have to know how different it is from book. I assumed that it would be different because I always found the film adaptation inferior to the book.

Is it the same case for this one?

The Rhapsody

This is a harrowing novel about two boys from the same junior baseball league team who were sexually abused by their coach. Pedophile, anyone? Yes, the novel poignantly unfolds the devastating effects of their sexual abuse as they grow up not forgetting and not remembering.

One boy cannot forget the coach because it turns out that he is a young homosexual kid who has a propensity for older guys. One boy cannot remember because this childhood event traumatized him, which even got to the point where he associated the abuse with alien abduction.

The novel is told in four voices. They are Neil, the boy who cannot forget, Brian, the boy who cannot remember, Deborah, Brian’s sister, and Wendy, Neil’s best friend. Wait, I cannot remember if there is a fifth voice in the character of Eric, Neil’s and later Brian’s friend.

I guess I fit the role of the boy who cannot remember?

The two boys never saw each other again after that event, or more specifically, they never had the chance to talk about what happened. Ten years later, the effects that coach has on each of them carry on, and meeting each other became necessary. The past is reopened as Brian tries to figure out the supposed alien abduction that he experienced. He is invaded by dreams of aliens caressing his body, the face of coach, and the nearness of Neil.

Neil, on the other hand, turns out to be a notorious manwhore who has been selling his body exclusively to older men since he entered the threshold of adolescence, in the hopes of filling up the void that coach left him. He is sought after by Brian, and only on one Christmas Eve are they able to talk, to visit the house where coach used to live, to uncover the truth, and to come to terms with the past, evaluate the present, and look forward to the future.

Whenever I think of this novel, the movie version always come to mind. This is because it was so loyal to the book. I think there was only one part removed, which was something about Brian and Deborah squashing watermelons on the road, but I don’t think it was really necessary to the plot. It was more of an amplifier of the sibling’s relationship with each other, which was pretty much established without this chapter.

I do not know how different my experience of the book would be if I have not seen the film first. But having seen it before reading it, the narrative was intensified. I expected no longer to feel a sense of suspense, but there is still one anyway.

And I am glad to have read this one. I don’t think it has an award. It’s not even in the Top 100 Lists that I am collecting. I even think that the film version is, at times, better than the book, which goes without saying that this is the only film adaptation of a book that was able to give full justice to the novel it is depicting.

Which also goes without saying that I shouldn’t be too picky with books. This one is a book that says, hey, a book doesn’t need an award to be really good. It does not have to be loved by the critics. I have to admit though that the film adaptation has good remarks from top movie critics, and now I’m wondering what the heck happened with top book critics.

They missed out a lot with this book, in case they have been too prissy with their book choice.

Final Notes

The book and the film are two different entities, but it is hard to separate one from the other. It is hard not to think about one of them if one is either reading the book or watching the film. It is a problem I have, but I am always interested in looking for a film adaptation of a book that I have read.

The film adaptation is the director’s vision. It is how he understood the film. His understanding of the film differs from how one understood it. They also have to compromise certain things to make the book fit for the silver screen, such as plot changes, chapter deletions, et al. This is why it is fun watching these because there is a telepathic debate going on between you and the director, presenting to him how you would have done things your way.

Some of the film adaptations that I have seen and read the books where they are based from are the following:

* Atonement – The ending was changed, but it was still good.
* Blindness – For some reason, I didn’t like it.
* The Hours – I like it, but it felt too fast.
* Never Let Me Go – I would have hated this so much had it not been for the cast.
* The Road – It failed to capture the both depressing and hopeful journey of the father and son.
* The Shipping News – I don’t remember, so maybe it’s just blah.
* Mysterious Skin – The best film adaptation ever! The loyalty to the book, the soundtrack, the score, the cinematography, the cast, everything.

Thanks to Mysterious Skin, I was also able to discover the beauty of ambient and shoegaze music. Sigur Ros, anyone? ( )
  angusmiranda | Jun 10, 2014 |
Enthralling read. Initially I was going to throw it down in disgust as I wasn't quite sure what I was reading. However, I'm glad I gave it more reading time as it didn't go where I thought it was going ie, down the titillating, child porn, abuse route. It didn't and it was much much more.

This was an uncomfortable, and sometimes darn-right sickening view into the characters lives and how the 2 abused characters came to terms with their individual experiences of abuse. I genuinely felt for the damaged personalities, even the so called 'bad boy'.

I can't help believe that the author must be writing from experience or he has done some rather in depth research as it is all too realistic IMHO. OK, so what's UFO's got to do with it ... well all I'll say is I had 'a friend', no honestly, who had a 'loosely' similar experience so I really do 'get' this. You'll just have to read it to see if you do too. My friend? She's fine as far as I know but we lost touch a few years ago but I know it wasn't until, very like the story, 15 years before she realised the truth.

It will most definitely not be a book for everyone as it has child sexual abuse, homosexuality with explicit sex content. ( )
1 vote sj2b | Jun 26, 2013 |
I wish I'd had this book in hand last year: novel in stories, multiple POV, fifteen year time frame, nonlinear narrative.

Heim is good at this.

( )
  usefuljack | May 17, 2013 |
I wish I'd had this book in hand last year: novel in stories, multiple POV, fifteen year time frame, nonlinear narrative.

Heim is good at this.

( )
  usefuljack | May 17, 2013 |
i thought the movie was better than the book - mostly due to the lead actor but whatev.

i like the roaming point of view. heim does very well in his debut. i liked in awe more than this book. if you're interested in a similar topic, read that book also! ( )
  coolsnak3 | May 12, 2011 |
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for Tamyra Heim
and for Jamie Reisch
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The summer I was eight years old, five hours disappeared from my life.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060841699, Paperback)

At the age of eight Brian Lackey is found bleeding under the crawl space of his house, having endured something so traumatic that he cannot remember an entire five–hour period of time.

During the following years he slowly recalls details from that night, but these fragments are not enough to explain what happened to him, and he begins to believe that he may have been the victim of an alien encounter. Neil McCormick is fully aware of the events from that summer of 1981. Wise beyond his years, curious about his developing sexuality, Neil found what he perceived to be love and guidance from his baseball coach. Now, ten years later, he is a teenage hustler, a terrorist of sorts, unaware of the dangerous path his life is taking. His recklessness is governed by idealized memories of his coach, memories that unexpectedly change when Brian comes to Neil for help and, ultimately, the truth.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:41:27 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

This is a powerful first novel about what happens to two boys in the aftermath of sexual abuse by their baseball coach.

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Scott Heim is a LibraryThing Author, an author who lists their personal library on LibraryThing.

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