When my partner went in to have a mole excised by a dermatological surgeon, I went into the room with him. He has no stomach for the bodily grotesque, while I watch live surgery on television for fun. I sat in the corner in a folding chair while a doctor with hands strong as vices and delicate as insects sliced a chunk of skin and fat as large as my palm out of my partner’s back. The flesh gave way so easily under the scalpel, the pinkish mole and surrounding skin parting almost graciously, politely. They let me hold the mole in its specimen jar before whisking it off to the lab, the skin gone bloodless and serene.
The closest I’ve ever come to experiencing the same mixture of disgust and fascination was reading the debut story collection from writer Christine Miscione of Hamilton, Ontario. Miscione’s lead story, “Skin, Just,” which won the Vanderbilt/Exile CVC Short Fiction Competition, skilfully balances on the tipping point between physical horror and the sublime. Miscione excels at writing about horrible things in beautiful ways. Her prose is not only deft and neat, but often wrenchingly lovely, so that much of the text comes across like a suppurating wound wrapped in hand-stitched lace.
All of the stories in Auxiliary Skins address the relationship between the physical body and the intellectual, spiritual self, exploring how our minds become divorced from skin and bone, such that the flesh becomes an adversary, something to be excised or carved or bludgeoned or transformed. Miscione details mortifications of the body, the way it is irrigated and bandaged, saturated with painkillers and antibiotics, wracked by allergies and intolerances. She treats every fold and secretion with poetic affection, revelling in the repugnance with a glee that often makes the reader recoil, then draw uncontrollably closer to the carnage. Auxiliary Skins leaves the reader both queasy, and with a greater appreciation for the elements of corporeal excess.