Dallas' Book Report: Skinzz by Wrath James White (2015)

Wrath James White is an anomaly in the world of horror. In a genre of fiction dominated by the melanin challenged, Wrath is a black dude who writes some of the most gruesome horror fiction that would make a death metal band blush in shame. This is the first book of his I have ever read, and I can see why he is gaining a cult following. Skinzz is a brutal book, and at first glance, this seems like nothing but torture porn.

Beneath the veneer of blood and guts lies a story of a Byronic hero. He is an outlier within an outlier.

The main character of our story is Mack, a six-foot and intimidating young black man. Mack loves five things: The hardcore music scene, his mama, a white girl named Miranda, his best friend Jason, and busting Nazi skinheads! What I found most intriguing about the entire book was that the violence felt justified. Not just the bashing of Nazi heads. (although I have no problem with beating up stupid, racist skinheads) But that the world of the hardcore scene in the 1980s was one of missing teeth, jackboots to the head, and blood mixed with booze! Violent lives ending violently. The hardcore scene is a foreign world to me, but the message of the outsider is not.

I can relate to Mack, not because I am a six-foot muscle-bound black man with the spirit of a Zulu warrior (Wrath's words, not mine) but that I grew up in a world like his—in essence, at least. As the book says, Mack was into things that black people were not "supposed" to be into. He didn't listen to rap, or sag his pants; punk music and black leather was his scene. Much like him, I was told that being into anime, role-playing games, and classical music was not for black people but that I was "acting white." As the book put it—Mack was rejected by blacks and hated by racist skinheads. But amidst the hate, he took matters into his own hands and stood firm. I can relate to this, although I would be lying if I said that I stomped some bald heads into the pavement.

Oh yeah, don't forget, this is a splatterpunk novel and is not for the faint of heart. Much like the hardcore scene, splatterpunk is the underground literary movement of hard horror that is bloody and brutal. And Skinzz has both in spades. Just look at the cover! If any reader is intimidated by it, then toss the book aside. Within its pages, fights get brutal. After a while, the jagged literary cuts bleed (all of the puns intended) together. It is the brutal realism of violent life, it reminds me of the stark worldview of Last Exit to Brooklyn. Instead of Italian-American slum-life of the 1950s, the 1980s Philadelphia is about to explode via an upcoming race war with Neo-Nazi punks. And Mack and his best buddy are caught between it.

The worst thing about Skinzz is not the hardcore fights but the main villainous lead, Little Davey. An ultraviolent, murderous, psychotic killer Nazi who is one of the most deplorable villains to be put on paper. Never have I wanted to see a villain be eradicated as much as I do Little Davey. Even the other Nazi's don't like him. A fearful little pissant of a coward, like most racists, are. 

Take a deep breath, not all is bleak in Skinzz. Some soft hope exists. One of the most touching things about this novel is the relationship Mack has with the ones he cherishes. Mack and Jason may be different races, but their love of hardcore music and hatred of Nazi's makes them brothers. And the love Mack has for Miranda pulled a few of my heartstrings. The commentary of race relations is front and center in the world of Skinzz. It's just that Wrath James White likes to drench it all with blood, and that will not make this a classic of literature. Do the Right Thing this ain't! This book is going to be a cult classic, through and through.

Considering the outcast main leads, I think that is what the author was looking for. Some prefer their racial commentary to be like To Kill A Mockingbird (no disrespect to that beautiful book). I just prefer my social commentary to have some more blood in it. Cast iron gutted horror fans, unite! Everyone else, go about your business.


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