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Book 90: Out of My Skin by John Haskell

By Brian Prisco | Books | June 5, 2009 |

By Brian Prisco | Books | June 5, 2009 |

It seemed like such a good idea: a writer decides to become a Steve Martin impersonator, but then it goes a little too far. And in theory, that’s what this book is about. But in theory, we’re all an infant’s dreams, and when he wakes we cease to exist.

More or less, this reminds me of a less able version of John Fante’s Bandini books. It’s about an East Coaster trying to find themselves on the West Coast. More specifically, about finding one’s self in L.A. Now, this I can appreciate, as I’ve lost my mind, soul, and sense of humor while drifting through these streets. It’s a town that can sandblast you. It’s a town where nobody is who they seem, and you can get caught up, because there’s always an audience. You are always being watched and observed by someone here. It’s a strange animal.

Haskell’s book follows an author — sometimes a screenwriter, sometimes a journalist? — as he decides to embody Steve Martin. Admittedly, this is a strange person to imitate, because Martin isn’t an outrageous guy — he plays one on TV. Twenty years ago. The author meets a girl, kind of loves her, and they have a relationship. And he tries to be an actor, kind of maybe. There’s never really anything specific going on, which makes this very L.A. There’s no immediacy about this city. Events occur, but time exists in a strange vacuum. For example, a mutual friend was visiting another friend of mine (star of Yeast, Amy Judd). I told her to come see me. She asked how far away I was. This is not an easy question to answer someone. Rarely do you respond to this with actual physical distance; at the time it was about three to five miles give or take. Normally, you answer by saying the time it would take. But in L.A., it depends on what time of day it is and in which direction you are traveling. I told her, “It takes either 15 minutes or an hour and a half.” This is a true but not helpful statement. This is L.A.

Haskell’s novel hints at being devious and creepy, but never fully takes the plunge. The author (not Haskell, but his narrator, who is also named Haskell) hints at this pseudo-psychosis, that he is consumed with the becoming of Steve vs. his not-Steve persona. It could have been this very effective insight into someone gone mad. There’s almost a point where you think the character is going to become a serial killer. But this instead sort of casually blows over, and we’re left with a droll, dreary relationship story. It’s not even a particularly effective existentialist piece. On the plus side, it’s short, barely breaking the 200 page minimum requirement. I’m still kind of curious to check out American Purgatorio by Haskell, but this was a breezy disappointment.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Brian’s reviews, check out his blog, The Gospel According to Prisco.

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