Break the Skin

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Published by: Crown Publishing Group
Release Date: June 14, 2011
Pages: 288
ISBN13: 978-0307716750


The next work of taut, dark, and beautifully crafted literary fiction by the author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist, The Bright Forever.

Laney—a skinny, awkward teenager alone in the world–thinks she’s found a kindred spirit in thirty-five-year old Delilah. “When I was with her,” Laney says, “I felt closest to being the person I was meant to be…We could have been sisters, big and little, which some people thought we were.” Then the police come to ask Laney questions and she finds herself reconstructing a story of suspense, deceit, and revenge, but also “a story of love, no matter how roughed up and ugly and stained.” A story that will haunt her forever.

Seven hundred miles away, in Texas, Miss Baby has the hardened heart of a woman who has been used by men in every possible way, yet she is desperate for true love. When she meets a stranger, a man who claims he can’t remember his real name or his past but who seems gentle and trusting, Miss Baby thinks she may have finally found someone to love, someone who will protect her from the abusive men who fill her past.

But Miss Baby and Laney are connected by a terrible crime and bit by bit, the complex web of deceptions and seemingly small misjudgments they’ve each helped to create starts to unravel. Action, speculation, and contradiction play off one another as the story is told through their first-person voices, which keep you nervously guessing all the way to the shocking, tragic climax. BREAK THE SKIN is a novel about “wanting to matter to someone, wanting it so badly that you did things you never could have imagined, and you swore they were right, all for the sake of love.”


“I was worried for these characters as I’d worry for my own friends. The women want normal things–connection, stability–but get in their own way of finding peaceful lives. I love reading about characters in Illinois, a place not often depicted in fiction. This is a suspenseful, engaging book.”
—Alice Elliott Dark, author of Think of England and In the Gloaming

“Young and lovesick, Lee Martin’s low-rent heroines live the stuff of country music. Earnest and innocent, they get caught up in trailerpark romances and what Alice Hoffman called practical magic. Break the Skin is a gossipy, rollicking Witches of Wal-Mart.”
—Stewart O’Nan, author of Emily, Alone and The Speed Queen

“. . .Mr. Martin is a top-notch craftsman. . .what is most remarkable about Break the Skin is its restrained tone and the author’s generosity toward his very needy characters. His sympathies for them rarely seem to wane, even when they are harboring criminals, conjuring hexes or plotting murder.”
The New York Times

—South of Scandinavia, there are fewer icicles and serial killers, but no lack of sinister intrigue. Pulitzer Prize finalist Lee Martin’s latest, Break the Skin, is a Lucinda Williams ballad of a small-town love affair—a teenage dropout, a nameless stranger—gone horribly wrong.

“Small town, big secrets; we’re in Lee Martin territory. Martin. . .gets the claustrophobia of small town life just right. With their oh-what-might-have-been voices, these women win our hearts.”
The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Disaffected teenager Laney has no one in the world but the older Delilah, whom she clings to like a raft. Then the police start asking Laney questions that link her to the sadder-but-wiser Miss Baby, who thinks she’s finally found true love with a gentle man who can’t remember his own name, and the story of a wrenching crime emerges. Martin has a following—he’s won a passel of awards (e.g., Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction), and The Bright Forever was a Pulitzer finalist—so maybe Break the Skin will break him out.”
—The Library Journal

“Martin, whose kidnap novel The Bright Forever (2005) was a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in fiction, expertly applies shades of James Cain–like noir to a modern story that might have been inspired by one of the Lucinda Williams songs on this book’s soundtrack. Black magic, daughters cursed by the loss or absence of their fathers, post traumatic stress syndrome, small-town secrecy and lies, pre-teen voyeurism: Welcome to life ‘on the other side of right thinking.’ An intoxicating small-town thriller that quickly gets under your skin.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Provocative… Crackling with dark deeds and bad intentions, Martin snakes through the lives of the desperate without casting pity.”
Publishers Weekly

“Carrying an almost archetypal resonance, this well-crafted tale of romantic desperation feels as sad and inevitable as an old murder ballad and should have an appeal beyond readers of serious fiction.”
The Library Journal

“What we really want from our summer reading is a chance to escape ourselves, to disappear for a while into the lives of other people. Break the Skin allows us to do that, while delivering a fast, suspenseful read.”
Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“The simple poetry of his language and the generous empathy Lee Martin has toward characters he refuses to judge make Break the Skin a deeply moving and cautionary tale for us all, wherever we come from and whoever we are.”
The Anniston Star (AL)

“There’s murder and mayhem for the reader who hungers for that, but the reason this novel succeeds as entertainment is that the author treads lightly with the plot and constructs his characters — even the secondary players — with subtle feeling. . . .You will be moved by Lee Martin’s writing. My guess is that you’ll want to see what else he’s written and read him again.”
The Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA)