The front matter of Tough Skin by Sarah Eaton reminds readers that BlazeVOX, the book’s publisher, specializes in “weird little books.” This certainly held true for the first two BlazeVOX titles I reviewed earlier this month (Angles of Disorder and Henri, Sophie, & the Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound), and Tough Skin continues the trend. The collection begins with a series of pieces in which a time-traveling inventor explains why he is driven to torture one of his creations. Later, Eaton presents a series of musings on drunken uncles, hundred-year-old monkeys who use chopsticks, and a woman named Kip who longs to have an elephant’s trunk grafted onto her shoulder. The collection concludes with poems told from the points of view of a midwife, a candystriper, a chaperone, and a babysitter. Needless to say, none of these figures fits a standard mold. Rather, Eaton uses them to comment (as she does throughout the volume) on the complicated relationship between altruism and self-gratification. Both, it turns out, constitute two sides of the same coin.
If Zachary C. Bush’s Angles of Disorder read like a poetic version of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks or Lost Highway, Tough Skin has the feel of the filmmaker’s Eraserhead — largely due to the proliferation of grotesquely deformed babies and quietly tormented adults. An admittedly strange book, this collection will especially appeal to fans of the bizarre and bloody.