Mariel's Reviews > Mysterious Skin

Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim
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Jun 08, 12

Recommended to Mariel by: five hours
Recommended for: incognito boy scout
Read in June, 2012

"Why now?" Neil asked. "Why do you need this now? Why did you search me out?"
"I'm tired of it," I said. "I want to dream about something else for a change."


I loved the 2004 film of Mysterious Skin (directed by Gregg Araki) more than I do the original novel. Scott Heim's We Disappear is one of my special favorites that I have read this year (I am a lucky dog and I know it because I have read a lot of favorite novels in 2012). That film and that novel did something that was, to me, astonishingly correct in a way that I haven't seen anywhere else. How do you go on in love when the love you felt you had, the purest and truest love you've ever known, could not be true, real or pure? It could never really be yours. What if you always wanted it back and all other love was its blurry lined edges of an echo? It's doubt. It's hollow heart. It's a gut feeling that's empty. Simply being able to be simply touched has been grave robbed.

I remember reading all sorts of complaints about the film (and especially the charismatic actor who portrayed Coach Heider. If you care about this sort of thing at all, Bill Sage is good in Hal Hartley's Simple Men), like it was too disturbing that nine year old Neil was already a homosexual (nine is not too young to have sexual feelings), and that the Coach was too attractive to Neil and to his single mother. One, who the fuck do they think molests kids, anyway? People people trust. More importantly, it wouldn't hurt for Neil to be abandoned by the coach when he got too old if you don't see how sad it was that this strings to hold me down attached affection had meant the world to him. I remember bullshit imdb posts about showing how they hide for the parents, as if that was the point. The mom wasn't looking. I care about Neil. It was his spirit that was trapped in the Coach's petrie dish. The coach had all of those video games and multi pack cereal sets for a reason. That's why it is so cruel. He loved him like that. Neil was left to hold those broken pieces.

All of that is in this book. I want to talk about something else. The feeling that I had from Mysterious Skin more than anything else was that dream of being that awkward kid everybody hates who has no place and then finding that kindred spirit, bosom companion, soul mate, bff 4-ever or whatever. I can see him as this lonely kid who watches a group going into a marathon of his favorite horror film series and wishes he could change enough vital cells in his body to become different enough to be that kind of person who could just say, "Hey, that second one was really good when they chop that guy's head off." They'd agree and soon it would be blood and guts and we have a bootleg of the new one and do you want to come over and watch it? I felt like that's what Scott Heim wanted more than anything else. You'd then fall asleep together watching the movies and then while your legs are tangled up on the floor you could wake up and all those unconscious things would seep into your clothes and you would sense if you could be safe about those other things too. We Disappear had it and In Awe had it too. In Awe had the wish for it and We Disappear had it because Scott Heim wanted it so much. It was in him all the time. Okay, I know I said the same thing about Mysterious Skin the film back in the day. I kept watching it until I (so sadly) had to return my rental because of that feeling. I had the feeling in my clothes that I could talk to this movie. We fell asleep together. Brian meets this other goth kid, Eric, and I remember thinking this kid was some kind of angel or something (not to sound completely stupid right now). I had hope because of Eric being the kind of guy that would sleep dream this stuff in the middle of every other life sleep. Eric is Brian's connection to Neil. His I talk in my sleep and like a vampire Neil doesn't show up in my mirrors connection. Eric watches Neil return to the scene of the crime. He came in through the bathroom window and I hope to god he won't leave in a body bag scene. He knows that he only wants older men. What would the coach look like if they aged him for the wanted posters? He loved both Neil and Brian for who they were and it wasn't some over the top thing. Neil who is elusive and Brian who is be reached or die. I believed it. Do I want to believe it too much to do the work for them myself? Yes.

In Awe and Mysterious Skin maybe are too self conscious about getting that feeling, like if two kids became best friends because they were both gay and then they turned their faces to the wall where it is graffitied fuck queers you. There's one scene when Brian finally confronts his dad about the two nights he was found dirty and bleeding in the crawl space behind the house. (I could go off on why "Did you know?" is really the wrong question and why so many stories don't get it that should be "Why didn't you stop it?" That's what you say. I guess the confrontation doesn't want the answer. You can't change the past. It could be the wrong kind of satisfaction like returning to the scene of the crime and after the revenge you are left with empty belly of undigested eats itself when its starving. "Why didn't you stop it?" is Batman after he has had his revenge. Getting asked if anyone molested you isn't the salve stories think it is. It's actually really traumatizing.) Brian says "daddy dear" and Eric is like a "No shit!" salute in mouth impressed. Brian has finally stuck up for himself. It's such a great scene and still a bit too pull back for the stage, too us against them. Heim knew what he was doing. But... Neil is the wounded wife who alights the funeral pyre, tragically for some undeserving husband, his smoke touching the daylight stars for all of those people who would patrol the movie theatres in hopes of someone asking them if they liked number four when that guy got it in the gut. I hate being picky about this. It's such a longed for feeling that it is hard not to be suspicious if it feels like it is being tried too hard for. Yet, I loved Eric for trying so hard with Neil. Brian needed it so much. Oh, I still think Eric is an angel for being Brian's friend.

Neil is an outside beacon to the others. Maybe because he pines so much for love. I have this feeling that it's when I get there one day (with a foot in the shadow past, don't doubt) dream I've been scared of. Heim's book doesn't do it ultimately, thank my lucky sirius, but it touches on that dreaded get to the real world happy ending because Neil being attractive isn't the point. I wanted Wendy to be a friend rather than to know he pulls them in, you know? Caring isn't hard. I'd believe it! At times this feels too needy, the Wendy, the alluring Neil.

Hell, I remember thinking that the movie almost tried too hard and that I wouldn't change a thing. Sometimes in my memory I build up these things that mean a lot to me (I'm scared of how much I do this). It's unlikely anyone here has seen Tully but let's use it as an example anyway. It's another one of those faces that's not perfect but the more you look at it the more beautiful it becomes and soon you couldn't see any other symmetry possible to make it more beautiful. I wouldn't change a thing. So Glenn Fitzgerald's character Earl is this sensitive young man with an overbearing man whore pretty boy brother named Tully (junior). Tully intrudes on Earl's special place in the cinema. At the end of the film when they have had their meaningful story arcs (this sounds pat but this movie is something special, really) and Tully accepts his brother for who he really is we see Earl again at the movies. He turns around to look behind him like he hopes his brother will come in and bother him in the movies again. He's not there. Earl then looks overjoyed to be eating popcorn and watching the movies after the seconds fast acceptance that he's alone. I imagined this almost hopeful look that he's there to see his brother. It's not there. I can't stop picturing that look when I think of this movie, all the same. I remember Mysterious Skin scenes in the movie that are and aren't there. I don't want to know if they aren't there. I have an image of Brian's socks. So simple and, sadly, permanently mama's little boy. The cereal boxes flying over their heads before young Neil and the coach make love is there like the wrong wish fulfillment when you get what you wanted and you could never have meant it, never in hell frozen over. That's in the book. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has the daring to be disappointed in his skin, like what if another love intruded on his old one? He has the chase for the past in the future on the prowl for men. All of the complications with his mother. Maybe I'm moving back towards movies because these days I can't stop thinking about how an actor would play something I read in books. Or I'm moving towards books that I can "play" in my head because I get to see what the movie will not show. I want to know what I would see in the way they stand. The pauses and how the air feels between them and everything else. Someone stages it and then it lives past them like how a kid could never be the whole birth of their parents. (Maybe like a song you can really sing along to.) Neil taking care of the mother and it would kill him if he never stops taking care of her. Everything he can't bear to leave and it's all stale time that should have not be reached by any time machine. If there's such a thing as time, please run far away from this. Looks on Brian's (Brady Cobert) face and how he inches to admitting what happened to him so that he can dream about anything else at all. His dreams are exhausted. He's sick and tired of being afraid like breathing. It would cost this kid to raise his voice. The book has it all. Maybe the difference was in me trying too hard for all of these different perspectives (I forgot all about Neil's gal pal Wendy. I didn't miss her) while reading the book and with actors there was flesh and blood for me to believe when it is in their souls to let themselves go to sleep enough to wake up with all that tired getting shared enough to not be too much to bear anymore. There's a restfulness, I guess is what I really want to say, in responses to each other. (I'm doing a think-write thing here.) Mysterious Skin the novel has the restlessness. Everybody is on the prowl in the mind if they could only go backwards. I get exhausted too.

I want to believe that they found that friend after all of that shit. It's not a way of making it okay but it's a way of moving on. Somewhere home to go to, you know? I love Scott Heim for understanding that that is all you can do. I didn't love it as much as We Disappear. THAT book inspired me to write a (still unsent) letter to Scott Heim thanking him for being him. I wish I could ask him if he felt that way writing that book. The way you have all these unanswered questions and you can only project figments to carry around and talk to. I wonder if I saw him, say at a Joy Williams book signing (we have an unreserved love for this lady in common. And I KNEW it reading We Disappear before I went on his site and found out it was oh so true), would I think "There's that person that sees shit and it's that future love that's okay."?

Oh, and there's so much about this book that I'm not going to talk about unless you want to fall asleep with me here and mind accept stuff. I don't want to write friends for myself to do that. Scott Heim understood. I never had much hope anyone would. That meant so much to me. I hope I won't build up how much and will see symmetry and not the beautiful face. I want to total love this. It could come. Does everything have to dream so hard? I think I wouldn't change a thing, though. His awkwardness pulls me.

Oh, and I loved that the big scene of the 1973 UFO that Brian is so obsessed with was in the town where I was born. I knew it!
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by Magdelanye (new)

Magdelanye I think I get what you are talking about.
In a bit of synchronicity, I realized, as I was writing my review for quite a different book, a quote I used in the review might be very applicable here
Reading this.... "left me peculiarly dizzy,filled with a mixture of longing and excitement"

these are the books we are always searching for!

The Sanatorium under the Sign of the Hourglass


message 2: by Magdelanye (new)

Magdelanye Mariel wrote: "That's more synchronicity because I've been thinking about reading that very book as it is heavily featured in David Grossman's wonderful see under: love."

Adore David Grossman, and while SUL remains my favorite of his books,last year very much captivated withSomeone to Run With


message 3: by Tuck (new)

Tuck i have "we disappear"!! now i gotta read it


message 4: by Tuck (new)

Tuck Mars wrote: "I LOVE Someone to run with. It inspired many, many young Mariel fantasies. I need to read it again. Did you read to the end of the land? It's a serious contender for best book I have ever read. I'l..." i concur, 'end of the land' is definitely destined for classic status


message 5: by Magdelanye (new)

Magdelanye Mars wrote: "I LOVE Someone to run with. It inspired many, many young Mariel fantasies. I need to read it again. Did you read to the end of the land? It's a serious contender for best book I have ever read. I'l..."

DG's books are not readily available and this is the first I have heard of To the end of the land.When I looked him up just now I noticed a few other of his titles that I had not heard of and must track down.

Synchronistically, while I was on his author page(I became a fan) I noticed the perfect quote to sum up a conversation I am having with Traveller:
To feel what it means to be another person. To be able to touch, if only for a moment, the blaze that burns within another human being.”
― David Grossman


message 6: by Magdelanye (new)

Magdelanye more synchronicity?

Another Israeli author that I really like is Edeet Ravel She is not quite as lighthearted as DG but she manages to discover new angles on the truth.


Sara Williams This was an exceptionally good review. While reading it, I kept feeling like you'd be someone who I'd like to embrace. Good to know someone out there also connects deeply to this world, who believes in these characters as much as I do. Your review was beautiful, and made me want to read all the other Heim's books.
Have a nice day.


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