BREAK THE SKIN by Lee Martin is an incredibly well written book told from the alternating viewpoints of two women. Laney and Baby are both yearning for happiness, and for them and the other women in this dark tale, happiness means love. Love is elusive though, and the women’s desperation makes them willing to embrace lies, magic, and delusion as they follow the rocky path laid out in Martin’s taut story.That path begins with Laney as she is taken out of New Gilead, Illinois’s Walmart in handcuffs. From the opening pages of the book, my heart ached for this “nothing kind of girl” who hangs on to people who show her any bit of care and concern with a desperation that you can understand even as you want to shake some sense into her.The other storyteller in the book is Miss Baby, a tattoo artist in Denton, Texas and not “the girlie sort who could turn a man’s head,” but she’s as dreamy and warm-hearted as Laney. Those qualities, which should be sweet at best and mildly irritating at their worst instead lead to varying levels of misfortune for both women.Other major characters include Delilah, Rose, Lester, Tweet, and Poke – and they are all broken in some way and searching for something or someone to make them happy. In one conversation, Poke calls people like that “shiver spooks.” He explains that they’re “the ones close to coming apart, only no one sees that until it’s too late.”Despite the wretchedness of all of the characters, and the awfulness of much of what is discovered as their stories unfold, I loved this book. Lee Martin’s writing in BREAK THE SKIN, gives his characters incredible depth, but without committing paragraph after paragraph to descriptions and explanations. I think the term “tightly woven” is used too often in book reviews, but this book is just that.I’m new to Lee Martin’s books, but you can be assured I’ll be checking out his others, particularly the 2006 Pulitzer Prize finalist, THE BRIGHT FOREVER.