John Beckman has humiliated himself. A fishing buddy nearly drowned during a camping trip because John was too scared to take action, or even to call for help. Only the fortuitous intervention of a third friend averts tragedy. Ashamed of his cowardice, John leaves the campsite in the dead of night to head for home.
Unfortunately, John takes a wrong turn. He ends up in the backwoods town of Plenty, where food is in abundance, the Festival of Feasts is rapidly approaching – and the porcine local population don’t take kindly to outsiders who are skinny.
There is much to like about Skinny. Dana Donovan’s writing is brisk and assured, and he instills the entire novel with an unnerving sense of otherness. John is a sympathetic and smart narrator. The people of Plenty, though somewhat bumbling, are truly menacing. And the action scenes, as John tries desperately to escape from Plenty, are clearly rendered and nerve-racking.
Unfortunately, all of that excellence services a plot that is a bit too lean. Once John arrives in Plenty, he is jailed and forced to eat. He escapes. He is recaptured. He is forced to eat again, with some torture thrown in. Then he escapes again. Then he is recaptured again. And so on. And on.
Each of these iterations, standing on its own, is well written. However, although the specific events differ in each cycle, the narrative as a whole never seems to advance. Nothing ever really changes.
An inescapable nightmare can be terrifying in short fiction. A novel, however, needs more. In order to stave off boredom, a novel needs a complete story. Unfortunately, Skinny doesn't quite have one.
Skinny is available from Lulu (as are other Donovan titles), both in paperback and download form. The download, at $1.25 at the time of this writing, was well worth the cost even with my reservations. Dana Donovan also maintains a website here.
Existo chronicles the adventures of a left-wing musical performance artist in a near-future right-wing America. The film has a great premise, great production values, a great soundtrack, and a great failing: it goes absolutely nowhere. We follow the characters through a roughly related series of events, but there is no real beginning, end, or forward momentum. The film just happens to start and stop.
However, the filmmakers behind Existo obviously have tremendous talent. If you are not as hung-up on plot as I am, you may want to check out the Existo website, which has video clips and extensive supplemental material. But for me, there was simply too little story to hold my interest.