A somewhat brief review of the debut novel Skin Experience by Chris Ringo
You can't find him on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble. Most people who know of his work are either in his circle or are friends of the members of his circle. Somehow, despite us having no friends in common (and me having no memory of anything else we might have had in common prior to our first conversation) I came across Chris Ringo on Facebook and learned of his journey as an independent author. He writes, of course, but he also designs his own covers and markets when he can. After a few months of stalking his Facebook page and seeing his cover art, I decided to take the plunge and invest $15 into this author's dream. Skin Experience is his official debut novel. The synopsis reads:
Does size matter? Of course, it plays a major role in how hard one works and plays. When blessed with a large gift, smaller minds will seek to hold the sweet dream from coming bigger and better than imagined. Chicago, Illinois isn't a place for the weak link. Xavier “Sponge” Hill learns the growing pains of fighting words. He's thrusted into a chain of events which will require him to erect greatness within...Skin Experience.
What genre is this novel classified as? I believe it fits in well within the label of urban fiction, but the title certainly suggests erotica, of which there is no shortage. I have read my fair share of samplings of both genres, so I've become accustomed to reading a style that has become common amongst many writers, especially independent writers and especially African American authors. One look at the popular books on Amazon Kindle in the African American section gives a pretty good illustration of the scandalous sex-filled novels and novellas that are popular. This is where Skin Experience is a breath of fresh air for me.
Upon beginning the first chapter of the novel I was thrown for a loop. There was no basic dialogue between the characters. The reader's intelligence is not spared as Ringo begins his novel with the narration reading more like poetry than prose. The characters' speech patterns are not what you would expect to hear in everyday life. Though there is some profanity, I wouldn't say that the story is plagued with it. For me, it felt as though the entire book was written in lyric with bits of slang inserted here and there so that the reader would be able to relate while expanding their vocabulary. Erotica in rare form as the author provides endless euphemisms, while maintaining a certain level of class and art to scenes that could have easily been explicit (or overly explicit) for the purpose of catering to what many expect from an erotic novel. Ringo's style is his own.
Aside from having to recalibrate my brain cells to prepare myself to read this novel with the extensive vocabulary and literary devices, I found myself having to focus—I mean actually give my undivided attention-- on the plot. Whatever do I mean by that? The plot is neither simple nor formulaic. If I could sum up the premise in just a few words, I would say that Ringo wrote this novel to show what could happen if a man simply embraced his nature—his lust. In the novel, Xavier Hill is the bee's knees for every female character in the book. There is something in his DNA, a trait that was apparently passed down by his father, Marvin, that his brother, Mayson, also inherited, yet appears more dominant in Xavier, that attracts the ladies to him and leaves them with unbridled passions that absolutely must be fulfilled. It begins with lover Bev Rodgers, involves matriarch Shirri Daniels and ends with a manipulative Indigo Anderson. An interesting, somewhat twisted tale of love, lust and deception defines the beginning of the novel and that theme continues throughout the remainder, with a bit more action and scandal added to the second half. There's enough going to to keep the reader engaged and the slightest distraction will have you missing important details and needing to reread various parts—or at least that was my experience. To retreat to my overly simple synopsis of a man embracing his lust, the viewpoint I am used to reading and hearing is that a man who puts so much emphasis on his love-making usually gets himself into trouble, in the form of broken hearts, babies and angry husbands/boyfriends, etc. In Skin Experience it is quite the contrary. By putting himself at the mercy of his female counterparts, Xavier finds out more about the man he truly is and learns to use that to his advantage in his business affairs. There's something about this particular Hill that women just want to climb and conquer.
There's no shortage of imagery, art and vocabulary (and food!) in this novel. I began reading it as a skeptic, as I do most novels, and I came out as a true supporter and appreciator of the work this author has put into creating a novel worthy of being read. I give it a 4 out of 5 stars, only because I've yet to read a five-star book written by anyone and there's always room for improvement. Ringo has a few more books in the works that I look forward to reading and reviewing in the near future.
He can be found on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/capturedbychrisringo