I’ve just started reading John Haskell‘s latest novel, Out of My Skin, and I’m going to recommend it before I even finish. I read and loved his first book, I Am Not Jackson Pollock, and this new one bares some similarities to that, but it marks a formal advance.

He has a very interesting way of using simple language to convey complex emotional and psychological states, as well as philosophical ideas. Below is the final paragraph before the first section break. It occurs after the narrator–a transplanted New York writer in L.A.–has been submerged under water in a shark tank, and it includes many of the hallmarks of Haskell’s writing: the simple language, the repetition and tendency toward self-reflexive observation, and the interest in movies/acting (Haskell is himself a playwright and actor).

“I was drinking my tea, tasting the tea and the sugar in the tea, and seeing this person in front of me, her teeth when she smiled, and the gums above her teeth. And her lips. The shape of her lips reminded me of a certain movie star, and I began thinking about the various roles I’d seen that particular movie star play, and while I was thinking, and while I was involved in the various narratives that led from that thinking, I wasn’t actually seeing the wide blue eyes of the assistant scientist. It wasn’t that I wasn’t paying attention; I didn’t even know I wasn’t paying attention. I was sitting there, in the middle of what might have been a normal conversation, and I was creating, not a cage exactly, but a sense of who I was.”

I think the only other author whose work seems similar is Jean-Philippe Toussaint–though his work is more… I don’t know, pathological. Has anyone else read either/both of these authors?

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SHYA SCANLON is the Fiction Reviews Editor for The Nervous Breakdown. Scanlon's work has appeared in the Mississippi Review, Literary Review, New York Quarterly, Guernica Magazine, Opium Magazine, and others. His book of prose poetry, In This Alone Impulse, was published by Noemi Press in January, 2010. In 2009, his novel Forecast was serialized online across 42 journals and literary blogs as part of the Forecast 42 Project. Forecast will be published by Flatmancrooked in December, 2010. He received his MFA from Brown University, where he was awarded the John Hawkes Prize in Fiction. Please visit him at www.shyascanlon.com.

5 responses to “John Haskell Rocks”

  1. paula says:

    I think Haskell is funny. His work reminds me a bit of Bernhard. I met him at a Geoff Dyer reading in the east village eons ago. He has this deadpan wierd thing going on. Love it.

  2. paula says:

    I find haskelll a little cynical, which is different than pessimism, for sure.

    • Shya Scanlon says:

      Cynical, really? I’ll see whether I agree while reading this book. It’s about identity, and masks, and vulnerability, and authenticity, so there’s plenty of room for cynicism to come in, but I haven’t noticed that so far.

  3. paula says:

    I’m basing this on his first book-which I read 5 years ago? anyway, I may have it all wrong.My memory stinks too (in response to your other post…)

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