________________ CM . . . . Volume VI Number 17 . . . . April 28, 2000

cover Under Her Skin.

Donna Caruso.
Saskatoon, SK: Thistledown Press, 1999.
64 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 1-895449-96-0.

Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.
Review by Joanne Peters.

*** /4


It's not that kind of stock. It's the kind that's raised to be eaten. I had picked up a double cheeseburger, flipped on the radio, and headed east out of the city on a long straight road as unbending as the horizon. I think that the horizon's why I came here in the first place - deliciously long and straight: sexy, really. Flat, flat, flat, so you can see absolutely everything; exposure unlimited; see what goes on where and see who is with whom. You have to be an exhibitionist and a voyeur to live here, knowing you are always seen and can always see everything yourself. It's people whose hearts are as flat and even as this landscape who do best here, who accept their every urge as part of nature's plan. Not like people who live where there's nooks and crannies, hills and mountains; where there are places to hide when things are happening; where hearts can be winding and shadowy, with secret places no one ever knows. (p. 7)
But, the women who live on the flat prairie landscape of these stories do not have hearts that are "flat and even," and it is the "secret places no one every knows" that are the focus of the seven short stories comprising Under Her Skin. They are ordinary women dealing with the ordinary life circumstances, and yet their reveries and reflections take on a surreal quality: family secrets fascinate Julia in "The Angelus", even as she observes the divine mysteries of early morning Mass; waiting in the doctor's office, Doris encounters a former high school classmate, now happily pregnant, and recognizes "A Vision of Disaster" awaiting the woman; Lilly sips Sambuca on Dominion Day, as memories of her late grandfather preoccupy her while she contemplates the recent death of the Pope in "Elephants on the Prairie." For the protagonist of "Sheila's Bladder Repair," surgery actually provides a respite from the sheer boredom of day to day existence with a retired husband. They ponder the lives of cross-dressers ("Stock Option"), consider the emotional impact of breaking up with a current lover ("Doreen's Guide to Personal Hygiene"), and wonder what life would have been like had they chosen another man ("His Bowels"). Almost totally focused on character and interior dialogue, there is little action, in the conventional sense, yet everything happens because the characters are so acutely observant.

Although highly readable, this is not a collection of stories suitable for most high school library collections. The sexual content of many of the stories makes them appropriate only for mature readers, and, for this reason, anyone considering purchase should read the book carefully.

Recommended with Reservations.

Joanne Peters is the teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364