Review: Skunks Dance by St. John Karp

★★★★ Skunks Dance by St. John Karp

Spivey Spillane is an honest guy. He loves his grandmammy, he loves his home, and he would bring ruin to any man who would rob him of his simple happiness. It’s the American way, and it’s God’s too. Unfortunately for the Spillane family name, there is such a man, and he’s running loose across the state of California, tipping cattle and penning indecent plays under the guise of Spillane himself. Oh, and there’s the fortune that only he knows the location of, too. Just one more reason to find Alabama Sam and fill him with lead, really.

Meanwhile, several generations later, two teens make a bet over their long-standing point of contention: was the treasure of Spivey Spillane a myth, or was it real? More importantly, which one of them can reach it first? But the two may not be alone in their treasure hunt…

Skunks Dance by St. John Karp is an unusual beast, crossing classic Western stories – specifically, the author cites “1960s British-made Westerns” as the main draw – with all sorts of other ideas. And best of all, it works beautifully. The book has a sense of self-aware comedy that, while never quite farcical, does provide a decent contrast against the dark subject matter. Not quite a serious Western blood-tale, not exactly a black comedy, instead walking a fine line in the middle that simply lets us view the world from the lackadaisical view of a cowboy gunslinger who got into the filthy business by following little more than his own flimsy and immature personal brand of common sense – all in a world that takes him about as seriously as he really should be. This extends to his teenage ancestor and co. in the present day who suffer from all the oddities and bizarre hi-jinks modern America can offer.

The book’s writing is generally solid, with only a few errors to speak of and nothing major. Karp’s style has a certain je ne sais quoi that sells the surrealism of the read as something hard and straight-lined. It’s difficult not to admire, really hooking you in from the get-go. The author admits to a love of the bizarre and historical and has a distinguishing personality that shines through his creation from metaphorical toe-to-tip. It’s a clear labor of love, retaining everything that makes those things it draws on so appealing, and taking on a life of its own with a palpable and infectious joy the author has cultured into the piece.

By taking itself so seriously in the face of absurdity, the book really develops a unique flavor that is really hard to put down, in all senses of the word. It’s a really addicting read once you have a taste for it. It’s hard to say if everyone will find that this book “clicks” with them, but it’s an artfully quirky piece that riffs on a popular genre with infectious adoration and creative ingenuity to make a truly inspiring read.

Content warning for violence and references to sexual activity and abuse.

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Skunks Dance

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