I thought I had read some other things by Charlie Huston, but now I don’t think I have. Huston’s American crime novels have a noir quality that is unlike anything I have seen before. To say his writing is clipped does not really encompass the extent of its abbreviation. It is thought fragments. One of his main characters, Jae, tries to make connections or linkages between ideas and information coming from widely disparate sources. Trying to understand his characters’ conversations is a little like that, too.
Skinner is current. It mentions the Tsarnaev brothers, for goodness’ sake. And it has lots of very alienated folks—unusual folks that are outside the mainstream. For that reason, it feels futuristic. These folks apply a great deal of cerebral muscle to take the technology we use every day to the next level.
However, meeting so many unusual people in one book made me feel a little alienated. I felt as though I were reading about comic book characters, which is another of Huston’s fields.
But let’s go to the heart of the mystery: I loved it. I loved the concept, the endgame, the central core of the story. It plays out beautifully, and mocks the gatekeepers of “security” in this age of terrorism. It has us rooting for the disenfranchised among us, and tells us to trust our overseers less and trust our own judgment more.
Part of the story features the slums of Mumbai, India and part is played out throughout Europe and in the cyberspace occupied by American security companies contracted to defend the United States. I can’t help thinking a very good companion book is a very serious and important book of sociology produced by Katherine Boo, called Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. In that book Boo shows us the [almost] limitless survival capacity of slum dwellers who have nothing to lose and everything to gain by innovating to live. Skinner carries the same theme.
In the end, I felt this was a very masculine voice talking to other masculine minds in a sort of video game mentality and graphic novel sort of jargon. His female character was aberrant, as were many of his male characters. They had a quality of unreality. For the reason that I could actually see in my mind’s eye the graphic depiction of his scenes, I found it interesting. It seemed less like literature than amusement, but that’s probably what he was aiming for.
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