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Skin Game: A Memoir
ISBN 0312263937 / 9780312263935 / 0-312-26393-7
Publisher St. Martin's Griffin
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A number of recent books by journalists and therapists have probed the social and psychological forces behind the alarming practice of self-mutilation; this unflinching memoir tells readers what it feels like. Caroline Kettlewell made her first attempt at age 12 with a Swiss Army knife, too dull to perform satisfactorily, but she quickly graduated to razor blades. "There was a very fine, an elegant pain," she writes of her initiation. "In the razor's wake, the skin melted away ... then the blood welled up ... the chaos in my head spun itself into a silk of silence." Describing her tense but not unusually difficult youth, the author doesn't spend a lot of time trying to figure out why she was so unhappy, concentrating instead on making palpable her sense of dread and terror of being out of control, emotions relieved by the act of cutting. Some readers may wish for more self-analysis, but others will find Kettlewell's austere prose and sensibility refreshing. "I kept cutting because it worked. When I cut I felt better, " she explains. "I stopped cutting because I always could have stopped cutting." Not the fanciest way to put it, but those sentences, like the entire book, have the cadences of "the plain and inelegant truth." --Wendy Smith [via]