Break the Skin by Lee Martin

“It was all about wanting to matter to someone, wanting it so badly that you did things you never would have imagined.”

Break the Skin by Lee Martin is a story told from the viewpoint of two very different women — Laney Volk and Betty Ruiz (Miss Baby) —  who live very different lives in two different small towns but  are  joined by their relationship with the same man.

Lester Stipp, the man in question, is a returned veteran of the war in Iraq who suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome which causes him to experience temporary fugues.

Laney, a young girl, wants love so badly she tries magic to bring it into her life. Her quest brings her into contact with Delilah and Rose and sets her on a path where a series of small misjudgments — “a life on the other side of right thinking” — ultimately leads to tragedy.

Miss Baby, a tattoo artist with a violent ex-boyfriend and a brother on the run is older and more experienced but like Laney also wants to matter to someone so that when she encounters Lester Stipp during one of his fugue episodes, she is prepared to fool not just him but herself too. Like Laney, she calls on magic to support her actions: “No one should question the witchy heart or how it comes to find what it needs.”

Magical or not, actions have a habit of leading to consequences and although Laney and Miss Baby both persuade themselves that their actions are the result of having no choice, the reader knows better. Early in the novel, that knowledge is a little like the feeling you get at the movies when you know something bad is going to happen but you just can’t stop watching. Here, however, the characters are so sympathetically presented that the reader is rooting for them all the way through — particularly for Miss Baby who, in the end, faces up to the consequences of her actions while retaining her belief in love.

Break the Skin by Lee Martin is published by Broadway Paperbacks. US$14/CAN$17. ISBN: 9780307716767.

A free copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.