And Throw Away the Skins
by Scott Archer Jones

"All things on earth, both good and bad, last only a little while."

Good books have advantages over good friends. Like friends, they can provide diversion, comfort, and the sharing of a plethora of emotions; but unlike friends, you don’t need to take their feelings, needs, or desires into account. You can gobble them up in massive chunks or simply nibble at them now and then, returning only when you decide to do so. Good books never feel slighted, nor do they ever take offense. Yes, good books have their advantages, and Scott Archer Jones writes good books. This is one of them.

Character-driven, though certainly not lacking in plot construction and story appeal, this novel maps the terrain of the human heart both intimately and intricately as it explores a woman’s struggles with her past, present, and future. Bec, short for Rebecca, is forty-two. Her life seems to be unraveling around her. Her and her husband’s finances are virtually nil. She knows it because she’s responsible for overseeing what little is left. He’s unaware of their predicament because he’s serving as a chaplain overseas. She sells everything that’s left to sell and relocates from Dallas to New Mexico. There she takes up residence in a ramshackle cabin that’s been in her family for years. It is in this tiny house where she will come to terms with the enormous winds buffeting her life—gales that threaten not only her marriage but her core, her very essence, as well.

In Bec, Jones has created an exceptionally realistic character conflicted by the human foibles that plague us all. She is strong and self-reliant, a study apparently in rugged individualism. Yet in one way or another, it seems she is continually seeking companionship. A proud survivor of cancer, she is a disillusioned victim of her husband’s inability to deal with how the dreaded disease has treated her. Unfailingly practical in what it takes for her to eke out her existence, she frequently makes decisions that threaten her ability to do so. As Bec’s trials play out in the present, there are also recurrent flashbacks to her childhood and upbringing. We learn of her unremittingly overbearing father who continually relied on intimidation and corporal punishment in the rearing of his daughter. We’re also made aware of the love and affection of her mother, plus a secret, shared but unresolved, due to death’s untimely arrival.

The supporting characters throughout Bec’s story ring with authenticity. From the ex-teacher who’s become the town lush to the hash slinger with a heart of gold to a gaggle of wacky women and a squad of broken soldiers, the author depicts them all as real folk with their own crosses to bear and, therefore, worthy of compassion. Jones is a writer whose words often make emotions explode in silence, such as when he describes a marriage slowly crumbling. He writes, “They lay apart, a full twelve inches of separation. The space between them cut a thousand yards deep, a ditch of human suffering.” His insights also bite with the sting of truth, as when he’s describing Bec and her husband (in uniform) strolling through a crowded airport. “From the curb, through the door and to the counter, William received nods, friendly expressions, small waves. Everyone could be thankful for his service, as long as they didn’t have to serve. Or send their children.”

Jones is an author working at the top of his game. You appreciate getting to know the people he creates. You love the sound of his voice on the page. Perhaps best of all, when you reach the end of his novel, you know that your time has been profoundly well spent.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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