Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Skinnybones and the Wrinkle Queen by Glen Huser

Skinnybones and the Wrinkle Queen is one of my favorite titles, and I think I picked up the book on that description alone. The book, by Glen Huser, is about teenaged Tamara (Skinnybones) and Mrs. Barclay (the Wrinkle Queen). Tamara is paired with Mrs. Barclay for a class assignment, as her class walks the three blocks to the Sierra Sunset Senior’s Lodge to visit with the seniors there. Tamara has jumped from foster home to foster home to land with the Shadbolts, Shirl and Herbert, and their two children. An aspiring model, Tamara fakes an allergy to flour (modeling it after a program she watched on TV about gluten intolerance) after noting the absence of any healthy food at all in the house. Still, the Shadbolts make a change from the previous family she lived with, the Rawdings, “with their lists of rules all over the place, taped to the fridge, in the inside of the bathroom door: Don’t use more than 6 squares of bathroom tissue during a visit. Don’t open the refrigerator door unless you have permission.” She skips school frequently to watch Fashion TV, and has to check in regularly with her social worker, Mr. Mussbacher.

Mrs. Barclay, on the other hand, has ended up in the Senior’s Lodge by an unfortunate mistake: thinking that she was going to die quite soon, she signed power of attorney over to her nephew, Byron, who insists that she sell her house and her car as soon as possible. Mrs. Barclay notes, “Six months ago, when the pain was so bad I made me dizzy, I was sure my boat was headed out to sea, all primed with tar, reading for the torch. I said things; I signed things. But the funeral barge wasn’t set afire. And, God, it’s hard to have to hobble back to shore and find Byron waiting for you.” She intersperses her knowledge of opera (which is full of Norse mythology) with her understanding of people and places, her go to set of allusions to describe a situation.

The two form an unlikely pairing when both set their sights on the west coast, Mrs. Barclay hoping to attend the opera in Seattle and Tamara wanting to register in a modeling workshop in Vancouver. They decide to make that happen, and set off from Edmonton in Mrs. Barclay’s boat of a car.

Although there are places where the journey and what will happen on it seem transparent, Huser is always conscious of his characters and imbues them with a personality that doesn’t get lost in the predictability of the story. For instance, he carefully alludes (only once or twice) to how Tamara’s dream of modeling affects her well being, noting at one point when she almost faints in a meeting that she could have had more to eat lunch. Similarly, Huser only subtly shows Mrs. Barclay’s own knowledge of her “bad” days, her confusion when she sleeps an entire morning away, or Tamara’s worry when Mrs. Barclay isn’t herself. The story is told through their intersecting perspectives, moving between Tamara and Mrs. Barclay throughout the book.

Skinnybones and the Wrinkle Queen is a quick, light, and satisfying read, with a fun map-out of the journey from Edmonton to the west coast and back again.  

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