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Skin Hunger by Frances Boyle  

Skin Hunger tells two stories in counterpoint: the story of Rowan, a young activist who crusades for animal liberation to compensate for a dearth of emotional comfort and physical connection, and that of Evie, Rowan’s mother, whose struggles with mental illness and substance abuse have long kept the family apart.

Rowan Shea has spent her life looking for warmth and comfort. Separated for years from her mentally ill mother, she seeks fulfilment in caring for sick and injured animals, and connection through a string of casual hook-ups. After losing her job as a vet tech, Rowan finds a renewed sense of belonging and direction when she falls in with a group of animal rights activists and moves into their ramshackle farm on the outskirts of Vancouver. Soon, impatient with their inaction and petty disputes, Rowan forges new friendships and creates her own opportunities for protest, until she learns that the activists are targeting a university lab performing experiments on rhesus monkeys—and considering more extreme action.

In another time and another place, Rowan’s mother, Evie, struggles with the conviction that her very essence will harm her delicate baby. After numerous stays in a psychiatric hospital, Evie becomes convinced that her daughter is better off without her cursed touch. Lonely yet wary of forging deep connections, Evie undertakes the challenge of building a new life on her own terms.

Skin Hunger tells the story of a mother and daughter, starved for nurturing and compassion, as they struggle to find a home in the world, one that, despite decades apart, might bring them back together.

Excerpt from book

1968 - EVIE

Had it only been two weeks since the nurses came to her house with Ron standing behind them, arms crossed in that way he had? She hadn’t been herself lately—she hadn’t had a good night’s sleep since the baby arrived.

Baby? She remembered a toddler climbing up her like a monkey, the squeeze of its little arms; remembered her little girl who coughed and coughed and couldn’t catch a breath. How long could it have been since the baby was born? Months, maybe years? She shook her head trying to get it straight.

No, it wouldn’t come straight. The baby was no longer a baby, she knew that now, but was she really its mother? Her throat felt scraped. She remembered being held down, gagging against a tube down her throat, the taste of rum and vomit, chalky. So much was strange, and so much that felt familiar. This wasn’t the first time she’d been in hospital.

Was the white-coated doctor a psychiatrist? She had refused to go back to that doctor she’d seen after the baby arrived, but she didn’t think this was him—she remembered that quack hadn’t wanted to hear any complaints about Ron, kept telling her she was lucky, that she should learn to accept that she had a good life. She could remember him telling her to count her blessings—a fine husband, a brand-new house, a healthy baby girl.

Oh, the baby! Brambleberry babe. She’d thought of it as it twisted and grew inside her through the long months of pregnancy, even as her shape grew to accommodate something much bigger than a berry, a fairy creature inhabiting her body, making her stomach round and the rest of her sharply bony.

And hadn’t the baby ended up with a kind of fairy name? An odd sort of name, she’d never be able to tell people about without giving a kind of shrug, putting the blame on Ron’s mother. Evie herself couldn’t begin to think of a name. Hard enough to find a position to give the little wriggling thing a bottle without it twisting almost off her lap or digging into the incision where they’d cut the baby out. She felt for the scar, now just a raised white line across her abdomen. How long had it been?

[Continued in Skin Hunger]


Credit: John W. MacDonald

Frances Boyle has practised corporate law, volunteered for a number of feminist, arts and international development organizations, and was a long-time member of the editorial team at Arc Poetry Magazine. She currently serves as secretary of the League of Canadian Poets. She is the author of a novella (Tower, Fish Gotta Swim Editions, 2018), three books of poetry, (This White Nest, Quattro Books, 2019; Light-carved Passages, BuschekBooks, 2014; Openwork and Limestone, Frontenac House, 2022), a short story collection (Seeking Shade, Porcupine’s Quill, 2020), and several chapbooks. She lives in Ottawa with her partner and a large standard poodle who believes he is a lap dog.

The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.

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FICTION / Literary

FICTION / General

ISBN-13: 9780889844742

Publication Date: 2024-04-30

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 208

Price: $22.95