Shirts and Skins Paperback – Jul 16 2012
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A remarkable debut novel from Jeffrey Luscombe-a compelling series of linked stories of a young man's coming-out, coming-of-age, and coming-to-terms with his family and fate. Josh Moore lives with his family on the 'wrong side' of Hamilton, a gritty industrial city in southwestern Ontario. As a young boy, Josh plots an escape for a better life far from the steel mills that lined the bay. But fate has other plans and Josh discovers his adult life in Toronto is just as fraught with as many insecurities and missteps as his youth and he soon learns that no matter how far away he might run, he will never be able to leave his hometown behind.
Top Customer Reviews
The first sentence grabbed me by the throat and dared me to look away. I couldn't. I was completely drawn into the journey of Josh Moore, a sweet boy who begins to feel the first child-like curiosities of his sexuality, but after being humiliated, grows into a man struggling to be something he is not.
I defy anyone who grew up in a blue collar neighborhood not to feel a mix of pain and nostalgia at the vivid descriptions of working-class life, the desire to leave it, and the all-too-common problem of becoming a caricature within it. I couldn't put it down, and found myself hoping for Josh to be truly happy and free.
I love how each chapter is like a short story. The characters in this book are so raw and shameless and realistic, I feel like they will be entrenched in my memory as people who were in my old neighborhood.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Connecting with Luscombe's character, Joshua Moore, was therefore immediate and gratifying. By the time Josh is a young adult, he's aware of how much he wants to leave Hamilton, and his inability to do so easily becomes a heartbeat of frustration and repression throughout the stories that make up the continuity of "Shirts and Skins."
The short stories are complete entities in and of themselves, and each visits Josh chronologically as he moves from being a mostly innocent child to an outgoing youth to a jaded and hardened young man and beyond. The stories are snapshots: important moments that define Josh and his journey, and bring the reader along for the ride. Sometimes the reader winces in empathy, sometimes the reader wants to reach in and shake Josh hard, but always I was involved and tangled in Josh's life.
It would be easy to dismiss these stories (and the book as a whole) as just a "coming of age" progression. There are shades of that, yes, but I think there's a depth here that could be missed if you categorize the collection too quickly. Josh doesn't just progress, he regresses and represses. The orbit of his family members around him rings so true (and especially painful) that I could see, and smell, and taste the Hamilton I've avoided so long. That Josh was enough to make me revisit that place is one example of how engaging the characters and stories were.
I look forward to more Luscombe, and hope to find more of his tales.
Luscombe writes convincing dialogue and much of the novel tracing the first thirty-odd years of the life of Josh, the main character, proceeds through his conversations and frequent arguments with family members. And he does have a colourful family indeed.
Some of the most powerful writing in "Shirts and Skins" occurs as Josh is struggling in his early years with a cantankerous father and desperate mother compounded by bullying and academic problems at school. I had to go back and check to see whether those early chapters had been written in the first person. They are not. But so authentic was the voice of the young alienated Josh that I remembered those sections as if Luscombe had had Josh narrating the storyline directly.
"Shirts and Skins" is a coming out story in a number of senses. No need for a spoiler alert - I won't give away any of the critical plot developments. What I would observe is that through Josh's journey we witness his struggling with a variety of demons some of which are imposed on him from external sources and some of which are self-generated. Luscombe takes us very effectively inside Josh's head and heart as he wrestles with these various challenges.
There are plenty of dark moments in Josh's journey and they are presented with candour and a lack of sentimentality for which I as a reader was grateful. There are also bright and comic moments that bring a ready smile and chuckle.
I look forward to adding more fiction works by Luscombe to my bookshelves in the years to come.