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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Dead
All Have the Same Skin

Boris Vian

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To purchase The Dead All Have the Same Skin

Title: The Dead All Have the Same Skin
Author: Boris Vian
Genre: Novel
Written: 1947 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 124 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Dead All Have the Same Skin - US
The Dead All Have the Same Skin - UK
The Dead All Have the Same Skin - Canada
Les morts ont tous la même peau - Canada
The Dead All Have the Same Skin - India
Les morts ont tous la même peau - France
in Die Krimis - Deutschland
Tutti i morti hanno la stessa pelle - Italia
  • French title: Les morts ont tous la même peau
  • Translated by Paul Knobloch
  • With an Introduction by Marc Lapprand
  • Includes the story 'Dogs, Desire, and Death'
  • With a Postface by Vian
  • Originally published under the pseudonym Vernon Sullivan

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Our Assessment:

C+ : too messy, too simplistic -- and the racial-angle tough to stomach

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 4/5/2008 James Sallis
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Fall/2008 Jeffrey Twitchell-Waas

  From the Reviews:
  • "Dan becomes his own chatty tour guide to damnation." - James Sallis, The Los Angeles Times

  • "The novel is effective to the degree it skillfully teases the reader by treading the fine line between pulp and outright parody. (...) By and large the interest of this novel today, whose impact is likely to be more amusing than shocking, depends on Vianís status as a central actor (with a penchant for humorous provocation) in the post-war Left Bank milieu of existentialism and post-surrealism." - Jeffrey Twitchell-Waas, Review of Contemporary Fiction

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Dead All Have the Same Skin is the second of four American-style pulp novels that Boris Vian wrote under the pseudonym Vernon Sullivan, and like I Spit on Your Graves racial confusion and concerns about racial identity are central to the plot. Much of the novel is narrated by Dan Parker, a bouncer at a seedy establishment who everyone takes to be white but who harbors a secret: he's black. Or at least he's convinced he is -- and he does have an undeniably black brother, Richard, to show for it.
       Dan is getting restless. After five years throwing drunks and belligerents out on the street has gotten pretty boring -- but there's more that's itching him. Mainly: his blackness. To say he's conflicted is a gross understatement, and when Richard shows up to shake him down -- threatening to expose that he's ... black ! (which, apparently would be devastating, even in 1940s New York) -- he gets all in a tizzy, all his self-loathing ready to erupt.
       Dan feels overwhelming guilt about hiding his black identity -- from his wife, his employer, indeed the whole world. And he feels great shame about being black, because in his mind blacks are clearly inferior. And black and white ... well:

     "We're part of two different worlds," I said. "Two worlds that coexist, but can't overlap. When they do overlap, there's nothing but unhappiness and ruin. In both worlds."
       Needless to say, there's a whole lot of overlapping in The Dead All Have the Same Skin.
       When Richard shows up the black in Dan also comes out. Suddenly his animal lust for a taste of that colored flesh is near insatiable -- but when he gets home to the (white) wife, Sheila, he can't even satisfy her, and he's of little more use to her than a wet rag.
       Dan thinks if he can get rid of his blackmailing brother he can get back on track, but murder leads to a death-spiral of violence as he feels ever more cornered and lashes out, with predictable results. It's a shame, too: even the police sympathize with him (especially when they think he's not really black):
The guy he killed was a master blackmailer. Dan just lost his head. We can get him out of this mess by exploiting the fact that he was driven to murder because of these circumstances.
       But this messy pulp comes to its predictable end, as Dan lurches ahead from one disaster to the next.
       Alcohol soaked, and filled with characters too far gone to have much of an idea of what is going on, much less be able to act (or, occasionally, simply stand up) -- almost everyone in this novel, down to (ultimately) Dan, is literally powerless -- The Dead All Have the Same Skin is a fairly lazy effort to capture a slice of Americana. Worse, too many of the motions Dan goes through, especially when he's on the run, are too silly and implausible, Vian barely taking the time to make the events even vaguely believable. Dan's obsession with his racial identity, and the way it tears him apart, has something going for it, but here too Vian is ultimately too lazy; worse, he switches to an omniscient narrator for parts of the novel -- to far too little end, and with the consequence of sapping quite a bit of the power from manic Dan's own account. From wife Sheila's flirting with the policeman assigned to guard her to the women who briefly take Dan under their wing (and/or between their legs), far too much of this is far too underdeveloped, even by pulp novel standards (which is saying a lot). Most of the dialogue is lazy too.
       Yes, it has its moments, and the outlandish premise could have been shaped into something compelling, but as is The Dead All Have the Same Skin isn't much to look at. The best part of the book is Vian's attack on the critics of his first Vernon Sullivan book, included as a Postface.

- M.A.Orthofer, 16 March 2010

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The Dead All Have the Same Skin: Reviews: Boris Vian: Other books by Boris Vian under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Boris Vian lived 1920 to 1959.

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© 2010-2021 the complete review

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