John Haskell


25 Points: Out of My Skin

outofskinOut of My Skin
by John Haskell
FSG, 2009
224 pages / $4.95 buy from Powell’s








1. Out of My Skin by John Haskell is about a man (named Haskell) who goes to Los Angeles and becomes interested in a Steve Martin impersonator. It’s about wanting to change who you are. It’s about identity and the loss of self in pursuit of some ideal.

2. The real Haskell was a journalist who moved to LA from NY. He wrote a collection of short stories called I Am Not Jackson Pollock. Over the course of nine stories, Haskell writes about movies and their actors. He confuses the actors with the roles they play because it symbolizes the confusion of outward expression and inward intention. There is a dichotomy of who the person is versus who the person wants to be or the role they are playing.

3. I started reading this book around the time the Mayan calendar was ending and the regular calendar was ending. There was some talk about change and transformation. I’ve always found New Years’ celebrations to be arbitrary. Why do people dedicate themselves anew at the beginning of the year, a random point in time? Why do people want to start over? And yet I am susceptible to it.

4. I shaved my head and my face. I wanted to be a different person. I was tired of my choices, decisions, life. What does it take to transform yourself?

5. This book is written in a way unlike any other book by any other author I have read or heard about. And I’m sure someone could say why or how it is different using literary criticism. But I didn’t read it in a litcrit way so my experience of it was maybe more pure. I liked it for what it was doing to me, how it made me experience reading in a totally new way, how it changed me.

6. One thing that is different about this book is that it is more focused on ideas than action. But the ideas are realized through specific events and objective narration. It is not pure theory. This story, the things that happened and the way it is told, makes you think about things, makes you observe them, the things in the book and in your life. It transcends the book, so that it changes you, affects you.

7. Every sentence is infused with meaning as if no one had ever thought of the way things correlated before, how everything fits together, the narrator keenly observing everything and trying to wring some kind of desperate meaning from normality. “I could feel the blades of grass pressing up through my shirt into the skin of my back.” This could be a description in any book, but because of what is happening in this book, it takes on an uncanny resonance.

8. Every time I go on a trip, I think change is possible when I return. I think I’ll become a different person or I believe I am a different person slipping into the disguise of who I used to be, but then that disguise, my real persona, wins out and takes over.

9. The character Haskell lets the Steve persona attain for him certain things he feels himself incapable of. But after a while he can no longer maintain the desire for the things that his Steve persona has attained. Being Steve has gotten in the way even though he is happy, or, he becomes less happy when he loses the things because he is no longer being Steve.

10. “By becoming Steve and then becoming not-Steve, I’d become a nonentity.” At first it seemed like this anonymity in LA would mean a loss of control, would make him too vulnerable, but it seemed to be what he actually wanted in the first place. Douglas Coupland writes in Life after God about how strange it is that you can never park your body and float free. But it seems like you can. There are drugs and alcohol which diddle your brain just enough to get you to feel a different way. You can also do it by projecting your mind. You can leave your body by reading a book. READ MORE >

January 8th, 2013 / 6:02 pm