Skin Folk by Nalo Hopkinson
In Nalo Hopkinson’s Skin Folk, you’ll find 15 diverse Caribbean-inspired fantasy stories that are full of vividly-drawn characters, powerful prose, masterful storytelling, and imagery that is sensuous and haunting.
Skin Folk, Hopkinson’s first story collection, deservedly won the World Fantasy Award for Best Collection.
Some of Hopkinson’s stories are metaphors, many having to do with the theme of “skin” — whether it’s characters who are hiding, changing, or pretending to be something they’re not. Many also deal with the unique experiences of the Caribbean people as well as people who are black and/or queer or transgender.
Here are the stories:
- “Riding the Red” — An intriguing metaphor based on the Red Riding Hood story. It involves daughters, mothers, grandmothers, and wolves.
- “The Money Tree” — A pretty story about greed. There is lots of drowning imagery.
- “Something to Hitch Meat To” — A young graphic designer stuck in a job he doesn’t like has the opportunity to make a change.
- “Snake” — A wandering loner settles in a town that’s a bird sanctuary. This chilling horror story has a satisfying ending.
- “Under Glass” — I think I understood what was going on in this story and I think it’s quite clever, though maybe a bit too abstruse.
- “The Glass Bottle Trick” — Beatrice, a promiscuous med student, marries a man who has lost two wives. It’s easy to see where this one’s going, but it’s enjoyable all the same.
- “Slow Cold Chick” — This was one of my favorites. It’s about a woman who accidentally mixes a fertilized egg with hot sauce. But it’s a lot more than that. Very amusing.
- “Fisherman” — A young fisherman’s first visit to the town’s brothel. There’s a twist to this, and most readers will see it coming, but the twist isn’t the point. “Fisherman” has no fantasy elements and would fit best under the category “erotica.”
- “Tan-Tan and Dry Bone” — Tan-Tan (the Robber Queen from Hopkinson’s novel Midnight Robber) gets entrapped by a trickster who forces her to cook all day for him. Now I want to read Midnight Robber.
- “Greedy Choke Puppy” — Jackie is a PhD student, doing research about the type of Caribbean folklore that her grandmother believes in. She’s got rational answers for everything…
- “A Habit of Waste” — A touching story about a black woman who has downloaded her brain into a new white body. She’s working at a food bank in Canada. A Thanksgiving dinner with one of the food bank’s clients changes her perspective.
- “And the Lillies-Them A-Blow” — Samantha keeps noticing portents of death, including a bouquet of lilies that quickly rots and an old Jamaican song about a slave who was worked to death. What do these omens mean?
- “Whose Upward Flight I Love” — A very short scene about Canadians trying to control trees in winter.
- “Ganger (Ball Lightning)” — Another erotica piece about a couple wearing fake skin suits that allow them to feel each other in different ways. It’s disturbing, metaphorical, and poignant.
- “Precious” — A beautifully written fairytale about a young wife with a strange curse and a husband who is using her to fulfill his own needs.
I can’t say that I loved every story in Skin Folk – some were too disturbing or abstruse for me, but this collection is a great introduction to Nalo Hopkinson’s diverse and colorful fantasy. Some of the stories begin with an author foreword that helps us get to know her a little better.
Hopkinson’s tales feel modern and relevant, so it may surprise you to realize that they were first published nearly 20 years ago in 2001. Most were reprints at that time. Skin Folk was produced in an audio edition by Tantor Audio in October 2019. The always-fabulous Bahni Turpin (Star Trek) narrates the book. I love her audio work and recommend Tantor Audio’s version of Skin Folk.