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House of Skin: Prize-Winning Stories

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From best-selling Hawaiian author, Kiana Davenport, comes HOUSE OF SKIN, her first collection of prize-winning stories, including The O. Henry Awards, The Pushcart Prize, and The Best American Short Stories of 2000 (selected by E.L.Doctorow.)

These are provocative, often shocking, tales of obsession, love, racism, addiction, betrayal, even murder, but told in such sensuous, richly-textured prose each story is rendered magical and timeless.

A young girl obsessed with her tattooed, Yakuza uncle wit-nesses his horrific ending. A woman is condemned to death for loving a man outside her culture. Two cousins learn the terrible toll of drug addiction. A boy with amputated legs is introduced to love by an older woman.

A girl of mixed-race heritage discovers her white father's racist background, and spends her life trying to 'run her genes off, like fat.' Two beautiful sisters, professional taxi-dancers, abandon their daughters, leaving them with no clues or codes on how to survive. A house of dysfunctional and wounded people are finally redeemed by the strength of love.

The stories are set in islands across the Pacific where the author has lived and traveled extensively - Hawaii, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Fiji, Vanuatu - parts of of the world only barely ex-plored in contemporary literature. Davenport offers her readers not just mesmerizing writing, but also brings them bulletins from an ancient, yet seemingly brave, new world.


Of Davenport's writing, ALICE WALKER has said, "She ex-hibits the character great writers must have, passionate love of people, dedication to the memory of people who have suffered. You can't read Kiana Davenport without being transformed."

ISABEL ALLENDE has said, "Reading Davenport is an over-whelming experience. Her prose is sharp and shining as a sword, yet her sense of poetry and love of nature permeate each line."

A Sampling of Reviews of Stories in this Collection:

"The story, HOUSE OF SKIN, transcends the very good and achieves the beautiful. It describes what is essentially a love story between the uncle, aunt and niece. After the tattooed uncle finally dies comes an ending as appropriate and mortifying as any I have ever read."
- W.P. Osborn, Manoa, Journal of International Writing

"THE LIPSTICK TREE had a magical effect on me. The pro-tagonist's dream of a better life, and her determination to go to the furthest extremes to achieve it, is heroic. The price of freedom is mitigated with grievous loss and bittersweet victory."
- Thom Jones, author of Pugilist at Rest

"DRAGON SEED is a spooky tale of addiction and self-destruction."
- Jeff Yang, Reviewer, The Village Voice

"The haunting, junkie ecstasy of Davenport's DRAGON SEED
is both abhorrent and beautiful."
- Jessica Hagedorn, author of Dog Eaters

"Hypnotic and amazing tales. Her writing is astonishing. Along the way, we learn about important and under-represented cultures. BONES OF THE INNER EAR still haunts me, and I believe some of these stories will stand as long as there is written language."
- Tillie Olsen, author of Silences, Tell Me a Riddle


120 pages, Kindle Edition

First published November 30, 2010

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About the author

Kiana Davenport

13 books221 followers
KIANA DAVENPORT is descended from a full-blooded Native Hawaiian mother, and a Caucasian father from Talladega, Alabama. Her father, Braxton Bragg Davenport, was a sailor in the U.S. Navy, stationed at Pearl Harbor, when he fell in love with her mother, Emma Kealoha Awaawa Kanoho Houghtailing. On her mother's side, Kiana traces her ancestry back to the first Polynesian settlers to the Hawaiian Islands who arrived almost two thousand years ago from Tahiti and the Tuamotu's. On her father's side, she traces her ancestry to John Davenport, the puritan clergyman who co-founded the American colony of New Haven, Connecticut in 1638.

Kiana is the author of the internationally best-selling novels, SHARK DIALOGUES, SONG OF THE EXILE, HOUSE OF MANY GODS, THE SPY LOVER, and most recently, THE SOUL AJAR, now available in paperback and on Kindle

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5 stars
52 (37%)
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60 (42%)
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22 (15%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 30 reviews
Profile Image for Leah.
1,435 reviews221 followers
February 24, 2017
I've had an odd reaction to this collection twice now. Both times I've liked the first story, House of Skin, and loved the second, The Lipstick Tree. The House of Skin is about a girl whose uncle has full tattoos over his whole body. She develops a kind of love for him as a child which never leaves her, but as she becomes an adult she sees the weaknesses in her aunt's and his marriage. It has a strange and shocking ending.

The Lipstick Tree is a rather wonderful story about a young woman living in a 'primitive' tribe in Papua New Guinea. We see the contrast between her life there and the modern world, as she makes the decision whether to leave, knowing that if she does she will never be accepted back.

The third story, basically about opium addiction, bores me. The fourth story sets out to shock from the beginning... and it's there I stop. I then keep the book on my Kindle for a couple of weeks, before deciding I don't want to go on with it... very strange, and I don't understand why I have this reaction. So again I'm stopping midway, having mostly enjoyed the bit I read, and may come back one day and read the rest. Or I may not...
Profile Image for Paola.
138 reviews23 followers
April 11, 2011
Copy of my review on Amazon.co.uk:

(No major spoilers)

I’d never heard of Kiana Davenport until I stumbled across Joe Konrath’s blog on self-publishing; Konrath had just published a letter from Davenport to him, in which she thanked him for inspiring her to self-publish her short stories, after her publishers had turned them down (despite the fact that her novels had previously been quite successful). Konrath pretty much challenged all his readers to purchase a copy of ‘House of Skin’ for their Kindle. So I did. I love viral campaigns.

I am not normally a fan of short-stories, in fact, I actively avoid them, even when they are authored by my favourite writers. But the first story, which gives the collection its title, drew me in pretty much instantly and let’s just say (I don’t ‘do’ spoilers) that it was rather unforgettable.

The following one, “The Lipstick Tree”, was equally dark and and took me to the jungle of Central New Guinea. I had to look it up on the globe when I got home because in my utter ignorance, I had never realised that it’s so close to Australia. (This is what happens when you tend to stick to reading the same genres and the same authors all the time: you are just not exposed to other backgrounds and cultures.)

As a quick preview of the rest, “Dragon Seed” is a journey of self-destruction by illness and opiates; “Rosie and Jake at Top Speed” is, well, it’s about undying love; “Fork Used in Killing Reverend Baker” is set in Fiji (another place I will need to read up about).

But my favourite story is the one that follows: ‘War Doll Hotel’; it’s the story of a mixed-heritage girl from Hawaii moving “as far from Honolulu as I could get and still be in the United States”. Her life at the YMCA, her group of equally ‘exotic’ friends and their struggle to find their place in still predominantly white, WASPy 1970s New York. I absolutely loved that story and I could have read an entire novel on that character. I loved the way in which the story is told, as if describing a photo album. I found that incredibly evocative and I am sure it would make a great film, in the right hands.

“Her Walking Stick” takes you back into slightly more disturbing territory but then gives you the unexpected relief of character redemption. And finally, the final story, “Bones of the Inner Ear” - a mini-family saga on mental illness, loss but also about hope for the new generations.

If one common theme is to be found in all these stories, it’s conflict of all the main characters trying to break free from the sometimes oppressive traditions of their cultures and attempting to escape from the poverty, the hopelessness, the lack of future, but finding that somehow, once in the ‘West’, once in New York, or Australia or London, you just don’t fit in. The protagonist of each story is a woman, but I am reluctant to label this as ‘women’s writing’ because the themes are universal. The sadness is universal. The beauty of the islands is universal. The ugliness of a destroyed natural environment is universal.

These stories are not the kind of reading you can binge on. I found myself reading one over a lunch break, and then feeling rather stunned and sometimes almost nauseated. With a couple of them, I had to leave it a few days before I could go back and read the next. You’re half repelled and half entranced. It’s hard to explain. You’ll just have to see for yourself.
Profile Image for Stacey.
266 reviews457 followers
April 4, 2011
I picked up this anthology (ebook) on a whim, after reading a promotional blogpost. It's definitely outside my normal reading picks, but it was worth my time. Auntie talks good story.

Davenport weaves wonderful imagery into these tales of love, despair, and decay. She has a strong “islander” voice, and anyone who has spent time listening to traditional storytellers knows that it's a distinctive quality that can't really be classified in any other way. In reading, I wondered repeatedly how each story would do as a podcast or audiobook. My opinion is that, given the right narrator match, they would be even more emotional and impactful than the written version. I could hear her storyteller's voice in my mind as I read.

I'm not sure it would be honest to say I “liked” each of these stories, most of them left me feeling sad, some of them were just outright depressing, primarily because they were real and gritty. I couldn't help but wonder if these were stories from her imagination, or if she was relating real happenings. I had to read in small doses. But I also had to read.
Profile Image for Michelle.
264 reviews68 followers
July 5, 2020
This is my first time reading anything written by Kiana Davenport.
Her writing style is extraordinary.
I started the collection in August and had a few breaks in between reading. It's the kind of stuff that's best read in small doses, spread over a few sittings, so you have a chance to absorb and savor the rich lyrical writing, as well as wrap your brain around some of the socio-economic issues, customs, beliefs and practices that these stories contain.

Each story boasts: an exotic setting, a universal theme, a female protagonist.

A warning: these stories are dark and depressing, each one in its unique and special way; raw and edgy, so they may not appeal to everybody. Read with an open mind and be prepared to venture outside of your comfort zone. They make you think about your own heritage, identity and individuality. Amongst other emotions, you may feel admiration, disbelief and discomfort.

The end leaves you with this simple question: how comfortable are you in your own skin?
Profile Image for Marina.
77 reviews18 followers
July 25, 2021
These stories rip out your heart and let it dry in the Pacific sun.
Author 13 books33 followers
March 23, 2012
The writing shines. It's absolutely gorgeous, brilliant, even blinding. It's clean and to the point, even spare, and then there'll be a bit of figurative language that absolutely kills. It would punch me in the gut and I'd have to take a deep breath. Here are some examples.

Sexual obsession:
She suddenly smiled. “I let him take me right then, like two lizards in wet grass.”

An opium dream:
Then his fist was a warm, steady mass in my palm. We lay on our sides puffing and someone moaned above us in a dream. Soon the gum had burned away and Wu blew out the lamps. The sweet smoke clotted my lungs and I wanted to be sick. I tried to say this. To open my eyes. Form. The. Words. But I was massively adrift. Somewhere in the Gobi, a Mongol milked a singing horse. Caravans approached. Someone quietly removed my skin.

Setting the place:
We came from the rough tribes of Waianae, wild west coast of the island. Here, native clans spawned outcasts and felons, yet our towns had names like lullabyes. Makaha, Ma’ili, Nanakuli, Lualualei. In Nanakuli, a valley slung like a hammock between mountain and sea, I was born in a house known for its damaged men.

Most of these stories are told in the style of a very lucid dream; we as readers dip in and out of the narrators' minds. The use of omniscient POV is masterful. We'll get the sociohistorical information we need in a way that poetically enriches the story. She does in such a way that even dictionary definitions sound like a song.

The author is most familiar with Hawaii, obviously, but I think it's awesome that she's stretching geographically in this book, all across the Pacific, to places and cultures that are astonishingly diverse. People who live in grass huts and sleep with piglets have complicated stories just like the people who drive Lamborghinis. A lot of these stories are cruel, especially men being cruel to women or women being cruel to themselves, but they're all joyful in the way that they're told, if that makes any sense. Sometimes I felt like I was reading a style halfway between pulp and high literature, lurid and remote all at the same time.

The treatment of race and cultural hybridity is also incredibly rich, and from my perspective, spot-on. Like I felt this was speaking directly to me at several points. If you are a multi-racial/ethnic/cultural woman, these stories center you, absolutely.

In terms of the individual stories—I loved all of them. The only critical thing I can say about this collection is that the ebook formatting is terrible. Not to the point of being unreadable, but there are still many errors such as weirdly hyphenated words. Hopefully it will be rereleased eventually with cleaner formatting.

I'm on to Cannibal Nights now. This book was incredible and I recommend it to anyone who loves beautiful writing.

Profile Image for Laura Zimmerman.
51 reviews6 followers
September 5, 2012
I'm typically not a short-story reader but after reading the reviews for this collection of stories, I was intrigued. The author's style is different from what I'm accustomed to reading so I found myself having to pay more attention than usual. Her imagery included descriptions not commonly found in American stories (at least in my experience): lush, lyrical, tropical, and sometimes tribal imagery that conjured customs and cultures from a time long past. Each of the stories is dark in its own way; each story explores themes of ancient cultures and practices carried into present time and causes the reader to consider where they came from, how far they have diverged from their original family or culture, and whether they should return to their roots. I felt a little off-center after reading each story because they made me think about where we come from, where we are headed, and whether it's preferable to lose the old ways or to hold onto them.

Despite the dark themes presented in the stories (addiction, racism, violence, etc.), I found myself wishing there were more stories in the collection. I rarely say this but I plan to re-read these stories and I'm certain that I will pull more from them as I read them a second time.
Profile Image for Kathleen Valentine.
Author 47 books118 followers
September 30, 2011
These are some of the most astonishing stories I've ever read. Kiana Davenport writes tight, clean, gorgeous prose that is beautifully descriptive without being wordy. Her characters are developed with precision and breath-taking honesty, rare in short stories.

These stories, all of which take place on South Pacific islands, including Fiji, Pentecost Island, Nauru and Hawaii are both beautiful and brutal -- and painfully honest about the lives of the women who fill them.

The title story, House of Skin, is unforgettable and the final scene will haunt me for years. But every single story is unique and stunning in its own way. I especially loved "War Dolls".

I read Davenport's Shark Dialogues when it first came out and I couldn't stop talking about it to people. Still after all these years I have pictures in my head from that book. I'm now on a mission to read all of her books. She writes so well.
Profile Image for Scott Gray.
Author 61 books12 followers
May 22, 2011
Though I love good fiction of just about every stripe, my main interest has always been speculative fiction and literary fantasy. I was thus a little bit confused when a friend, knowing of that particular predilection, recommended House of Skin to me, saying "You'll never read another world as fantastic as this one."

That invitation doesn't go nearly far enough in expressing the extraordinary degree of wonder and humanity in Kiana Davenport's stories. With an extraordinarily succinct yet poetic style, Ms. Davenport defines the beauty and the tragedy of these characters and their lives in a way that's absolutely stunning, and has introduced me to a world and a culture that I otherwise might never have known.

[Cloned from Amazon.com]
Profile Image for glitrbug.
447 reviews
April 26, 2011
One of the best books I have ever read. Should be on everyone's required reading list if only to counteract all the books by dead white men. Fascinating stories set in islands across the Pacific, places I've never been and may never make it to, yet still about universal themes like what happens when you marry the tattooed bad boy, move far from home and come back for a visit. Rich juicy stories you will think about for months. The only downside is now everything else I read seems anemic by comparison.
Profile Image for BetseaK.
78 reviews
March 22, 2013
Unusual, poignant stories about the darker side of human lives, internal conflicts and conflict relationships. All the main characters are trying to break away from the lack of future, the oppressive living conditions, the hopelessness. The stories brought me to exotic places: Hawai'i, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Nauru, Vanatu.
I liked some of the stories more, some less; but what impressed me best was the author's stunningly succinct yet lyrical writing style.
Profile Image for Karen.
1,860 reviews38 followers
January 22, 2015
This is a collection of Pacific Island stories: Hawaii, Nauru, Papua New Guinea and Fiji. These stories show the darker, seamy side of the Islands.
Profile Image for Christie Bane.
1,084 reviews11 followers
July 14, 2018
Oh, God, Kiana Davenport’s books are so deliciously dark. This short story collection is no different. The stories are all set on tropical islands somewhere, either Hawaii or somewhere else in the Pacific. People in the stories do and experience horrible things, but the writing is so good that the horrible things are beautiful to experience. I am truly sorry I’m done with all of Kiana Davenport’s books.
Profile Image for Susan Campbell.
430 reviews3 followers
October 26, 2017
Tough Read

Living in Hawai'i I've heard similar stories but that doesn't make this an easy read. This book is gritty and much too real.
Profile Image for Dena Hankins.
Author 15 books18 followers
December 21, 2014
I'd give this book a higher rating for the storytelling alone, but it needs editing in a way that I found distracting.

The stories themselves are powerful and convincing, painful and yearning. So much desire and need and such a big gap between the best and the real made me yearn along with the characters.

It is the language, beautiful and visual, that is the first compelling element. The characterizations are next, individuals even among the barely sketched. The fully painted characters scream from the prose. They are real people because now they live in my head. I imagine I'm not the only host.

There is much in this book that hurts. Choose your time wisely. Read it when you need to connect, not when you're exhausted by connection. Read it when you're in a place that can admit to hope and see that sometimes a peaceful ending can be as happy as it's going to get.

But read it.
Profile Image for Abigail Hilton.
Author 65 books157 followers
September 10, 2011
This is a collection of stories about Polynesian women coming to terms with their heritage. Each story is told in first person with a style so intense and intimate that it's hard to believe that the author did not actually live each of these lives. The language is lyrical. Every sentence counts. Every sentence packs a punch.

While these are stories that explore being a woman and being Polynesia, they are about so much more than heritage or feminism. They are about internal conflict and profoundly conflicted relationships. These stories will resonate with anyone who has ever felt torn by their own subculture, who has ever fled from something in themselves. If you have ever tried to salvage something from a destructive past, these stories will speak to you.
Profile Image for Scott.
2 reviews
March 25, 2011
Raw and beautiful - Kiana Davenport's collection of short stories is something you need to read. With an economy of words, Ms. Davenport captures the love, pain, sorrow and joy of life among the people of the Pacific Islands. Some of the stories will shock you, others may leave you crying. But once you begin to read them, you will not be able to stop.

Profile Image for Shannis McEwen.
277 reviews5 followers
May 5, 2011
This book was recommended by a blogger I like, and for the most part, the writing itself is solid. But some of the stories veer off into a little too much weirdness for me. Nothing I can be specific about since it's been a few weeks since I read it, and I will admit to not wanting to do the work that it probably required to get a better understanding of it.
Profile Image for Molly.
Author 6 books86 followers
August 17, 2012
Many of these stories were so familiar; I likely read them when they were in O Henry and Best American (as those were the years when I'd read those series religiously, believing I would be a fiction writer one day). Davenport's work is tight and good; I'm looking forward to the two subsequent collections.
Profile Image for Karla.
366 reviews5 followers
April 7, 2011
This is so unbelievably good! I had never heard of this author before I heard her story on Joe Konrath's blog so I bought her book. And I can tell you I was not disappointed, she is really a good writer.
Profile Image for Debi Faulkner.
Author 6 books19 followers
April 24, 2011
This is a beautiful book full of stories about women who have faced their lives and cultures head on. Sometimes they are able to come to peace with it; sometimes they are overwhelmed by it. But, the stories are always beautiful, and each one touched me deeply.
Author 4 books35 followers
May 3, 2011
So talented - but there may be sections that make some readers uncomfortable. She's one of those writers that make you feel what it's like to be a member of a different ethnic group in a different time period, and I so admire the ability to do that! Some language, some explicit situations.
Profile Image for Val Wilkerson.
809 reviews18 followers
December 18, 2011
A book of short stories by Kiana Davenport. I have read several of her books
and her short stories are just as good, all written about life on different
islands, she paints great pictures with her words.
Profile Image for Delilah Fawkes.
Author 189 books438 followers
May 1, 2012
Gorgeous, lyrical writing :). These stories were nothing short of breathtaking. It would have been a five, but some of them are tragic, which lessens my personal enjoyment, although they were beautiful to read.
Profile Image for Susan.
84 reviews
September 22, 2012
A fairly dark book, but very well written and well worth the read. A different point of view is a good thing in this world, don't you think?
Profile Image for Kristian Alva.
Author 22 books206 followers
February 9, 2013
Wonderful, haunting reading... I'm a big fan of Kiana Davenport's writing, and these stories are some of the best I've ever read. Just incredible.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 30 reviews

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