Puppet Skin by Danger Slater
Fungasm Press, 2016; 122 pp
Reviewed by Robert Torres
Danger Slater’s Puppet Skin is a bizarro novel that tells the story of a human girl born to puppet parents controlled by strings descending from pitch black holes in the sky. Hannah, our protagonist, is destined by society to become a puppet just like her parents through a mysterious process by which her “meat” is turned into puppet wood and her strings are attached. Hannah’s best friend, Jordan, dreams of running away to The City from their home in the Suburbs to become a model. The rest of the kids seem content to become puppets just like their parents and live out their lives in the suburbs. Of course, our iconoclastic hero is tested by a series of strange events (strange even for her puppet-run world) and begins working toward the downfall of this society.
Slater’s work harkens Tim Burton’s dreamlike claustrophobia in its myopic focus on its plot, eschewing questions of physics or history, but it really hits in stride with the elements of body horror (everybody’s favorite kind of horror) that begin to creep into the plot.
“The woodpulp vomit became more profuse, moister, stickier, until his mouth couldn’t handle the volume of it. One of his black eyes popped out of his head and plopped down into the dirt. More sawdust came pouring out of that hole.”
Slater does nasty very, very well. The story gets better and better the nastier it gets. Whereas Slater’s simple prose sometimes leaves the scene-setting lacking, he pays precise attention to every gratuitous gush, splash, and burble as things in Hannah’s puppet world go very quickly out of control.
“Like the streams of a fountain, the insects sprouted from his puppet waist in long, swooping arches. His head had been destroyed. It was caved in and full of holes like it had long ago rotted away from the inside. Grubby white worms spilled out his empty eye sockets and broken jaw. The larva pooled up on the floor. She could hear the wood continuing to creak.”
What sets Slater’s book apart in the vast universe of bizarro is that his book consistently finds ways to get weirder. That’s a tall order for a book that starts with young people willfully being systematically turned into puppets (a metaphor we are beaten to death with), but then we venture into the darkness above Hannah’s strange little world, and then into the city, and beyond. It is uncomfortable, surprising and fun. Puppet Skin is a great novella to curl up with on a rainy Friday night with a cheap beer or a couple fingers of whiskey.