Verdict: Promising premise and satisfying conclusion in this treasure-hunting romp, but difficult to find much emotional investment in this zany cast of constantly irreverent characters.
In St. John Karp’s novel SKUNKS DANCE, we follow two wild quests for hidden gold in two eras. Both timelines are populated with the cheerfully bizarre eccentrics of Skunks Dance, whether in the Gold Rush era and or in the present day.
During the Gold Rush, Spivey Spillane chases Alabama Sam to Skunks Dance in search of a missing defaced Bible that may hold coded directions to a cache of treasure. Or it may not… Alabama Sam is a capricious prankster, impersonating Spivey Spillane to rob banks and filling secret closets with knockoff defaced Bibles to mess with his pursuer. Although Spivey is single-minded in his pursuit of Alabama Sam and the treasure, and willing to take on both physical dangers and public humiliation to reach this goal, the reader may wonder, at times, if the secret cache of gold even exists.
Meanwhile, present-day Skunks Dance teens Jet Allan-Ashwood and Amanda Spillane engage in a war of exploding cars and stolen comics. The gold-hunting Spillane family, cheerfully eccentric, scours old records and maps looking for just one more clue to finding the buried treasure. Across town, Jet’s circus-performer parents appear mostly to offer him condoms, sex toys, and weed—when they’re not squeezing into spandex and performing acrobatics. But eventually, sworn enemies Amanda and Jet lay off the pranks and find themselves allied in the search for treasure.
While I do love a smart-mouthed hero, no one in either timeline can resist trading nonchalant quips in the face of danger. Banter becomes a bit tedious when it breaks any moment of tension, and pretty much every character has the same irreverent sense of humor.
Besides searching for missing gold, daily life in the town of Skunks Dance offers a lot: a one-man ballet based on a debauched Roman emperor, a bouncy castle mishap (resulting in an accidental sexual assault with a Batman cake topper), and a mysteriously headless statue in the town common. Despite all the wild adventures, the middle section of the book drags a bit, largely because the constant zany banter detracts from potential emotional connection or dramatic tension, making it difficult to feel invested in the twists of fortune and daring escapades in the search for gold. Stick with it, though, and the conclusion of the novel pays off when previous throwaway lines and minor details come back as important facts to resolve both storylines.
~Reviewed by Meg Stivison