Jordaan Mason, The Skin Team
Publisher: Magic Helicopter Press
2013, 226 pages, paperback, $15
The strangeness of ancient myth, whether Norse, Greek, Indian, Japanese, etc., attains a certain palpability from the degree to which the actions and imagery are impossible. The stories feature dove-armed and glowing consciousnesses, mutant kids with haunting anger and animal heads. Contemporary myths, in contrast, are akin to daddies lost to coalmines, photographic ghosts, and what happens when a distant cousin mixes Jäger with PBR, Jeep Grand Cherokees, and the oldest river bridge in the state. In these stories, Jordaan Mason mixes the fantastic with the concretely real—with stronger emphasis on the latter detail. Mason’s debut novel, The Skin Team, revives the bizarre results that occur when humans attempt to comprehend our world, blending the extreme oddity of the ancient stories with components of contemporary America.
The elements and figures involved in these disparate categories reflect their times—the ancient equals an abundance of the unknown, resulting in a hyper-mysteriousness of all outside forces, while contemporary myth comes closer to the uncanny in which eeriness is a product of our broadening, manufactured reality. The Skin Team presents a loose pantheon, combining mystic forces with modern concepts, such as True North, Continuous Operation, and The Efficient Use of Land. These forces speak and conduct themselves as wantonly as electricity or plutonium, personifying their domains. The Power Company Building is a place of literal power as well as supernatural power. The animation of the industrial sphere lends danger and cruelty to the novel’s environment, and simultaneously adds a vulnerability to the novel’s core characters: a boy-girl-boy love triangle. Because the pantheonic figures represent modern concepts, the use of these incorporeal fear-things, though an archaic convention, illustrates how enigmatic our world of science and technology still is; how we trade mystery for mystery in the progression of our knowledge systems.
The supernatural beings also give form to the central characters’ search for understanding. Mason illuminates this plight near the beginning of the novel:
Sarah told me that if I listened hard enough I would hear the energy. All of the grass was charged with it, like everything around me was language waiting to happen. She said it was all just the Power Company Building. We were so close to what we wanted to be. I told her I wanted to be a poet but I was tired of words. She told me to listen to the power cables and not talk anymore.
The human characters Synesthesia, Sarah, and Kinesthesia are made tangible by their overwhelming desire for knowledge, and how they seek this knowledge most vehemently is through each other’s bodies. All three explore the dangerous, inexplicable outside world for what they truly want, as well as the equally dangerous morphology of their own minds. Their most pronounced affliction is that of mystery, and Mason explores this affliction with each, though the boys, Synesthesia and Kinesthesia, seem to come through the clearest. Sarah, however, arrives at a strength the boys seem to only circle, as she appears to strike the most effective balance between the psychic and physical planes. She isn’t as encompassed by the other characters which allows her to choose a path completely her own.
The Skin Team is a mosaic made corporeal, made labyrinth by taking its art from the wall to the floor and allowing the reader to walk its intricate construction. The novel’s poetic language transforms its scenes into tiny brushstrokes, imitating in its structure the complexity of human thought and sexuality as they exist in our constructed reality. The novel thrusts its reader into a state of unknowing that reveals the gaps and voids in our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. It forces us to admit that everything is still mostly darkness and uncertainty; that human beings still exist in our own cloud of both tremendous understanding and terrifying mystery.