After Nneka, a young Nigerian-American, is dumped and abandoned by her partner Jacob, she undertakes a ritual of thickening her skin physically and spiritually—with mud, knives, tweezers, and a questionable form of therapy. Nneka’s healing process is as layered as the emotional abuse of her interracial relationship and embodies all the ways we hide, obsess, flail, fail, and finally carve our way toward feeling and healing. This heavily metaphorical novella, inspired by the author’s experience, mines meaning from memories and half-lived moments. Told in vignettes, from the perspective of a someone-turned-no-one, it grapples with the question: who’s responsible for the wreckage?
Cover art by Nkiruka Oparah & N/A Oparah
- Opal Palmer Adisa, author of 4-headed Woman and Love's Promise
"N/A Oparah’s fragmented language makes vividly intimate the ways an abusive relationship destroys identity while also leaving a stain of longing. Thick Skin’s vulnerability and honesty bring the reader into the arduous process of literally rebuilding her body, allowing us to hide and heal with her beneath layers of mud and language. Oparah’s use of the second person makes the reader feel complicit in her trauma while also identifying with the relationship that haunts the pages. This poetic novel is a work of beauty that shatters the reader as much as it does the narrator."
- Dana Green, author of How to Carry Scars and Sometimes the Air in the Room Goes Missing
"Thick Skin explores crises of self, time and body. The poisonous and ever-present abuser as collective of heteronormative patriarchy and white supremacy—and what that does to a queer black woman—N/A Oparah's sentences enact and embody her subtle, brave consciousness--Thick Skin is a brilliant, harrowing, necessary book, a great achievement."
- Joseph Lease, author of The Body Ghost
"I love that Thick Skin stretches reality by centering an impossible body caked with earthy protections. The thin veil of that stretch is honest as fuck about our so-called protections because N/A Oparah shows how our interiors keep forcing their way outwards, breaking the protections, like deal with this shit in order to heal. Thick Skin is making me look more deeply about how I am in relationships and how I’ve harmed and how I need to heal from harm. Right on to this book, and to N/A Oparah. Thank you."
- Steven Dunn, author of water & power and Potted Meat
In the earthquake, the picture you painted was the first thing to fall. It caught on a caked corner of my neck. When I woke, I finished ripping it off. It tore like clay: slow motion, jagged, dense. I twisted the false skin in circles to slice it completely.
This made me sweat. A wetness underneath my new layers. I ignored the itch. Disposed of this piece of me in the outside bin.
Back inside, I cleaned off the picture frame. Removed the dirt. Removed the blood and hung it higher up above my headrest, using one less nail this time.
- Review in Foglifter Journal
- Lambda Literary's Most Anticipated LGBTQ Books April 2021
- Big Other's Most Anticipated Small Press Titles April 2021
Is this your first full-length book?--
Yes, this is my first full length piece published. I am calling it a novella, rather than a novel. I'm not sure if that matters.
Who are some of your influences?--
I read and reread Carmen Maria Machado's In the Dream House, Roxane Gay's Difficult Women, and Lydia Davis' The End of the Story right before and during the writing process. They all seemed to offer permission (and precedent) to write about love and obsession and loss in seemingly illogical, fragmented, and surreal ways. I also felt empowered to write about what I didn't see and wanted more of. Namely, that feeling of stuckness, depression, and sadness, that world independent of resolution... as its own character and an end in itself.
How did you imagine the premise of thick skin?--
I asked myself a question: what would I need to change about me in order to be with my abusive ex, in order to win him back. The original goal of this piece was to write a work that would make him want to talk to me again / forgive me. After the relationship I had all these dreams about being flattened, buried, or numb (if numb were a super power). I kept appearing to myself as invulnerable, but always my body had morphed or disfigured itself to achieve this. I started writing about how I could build a more suitable body from scratch. I liked the idea that leaning into my pain could prevent me from feeling pain further. That giving up/giving in could be protective, could win him back. I resonated with the symbol of being buried alive, but taking the ground, the casket, the flowers, with me as I kept living-- only later did I remember the idiomatic meaning of thick skin. The more I wrote, the easier it was to admit I wanted something back that was harmful. I reapproached the project and tried to play around with the pros (invulnerability, masks, protection, etc) and cons (apathy, masks, etc.) of being covered in all the ways one might cover herself. I was hoping all the meanings I felt: thick skin as unhealthy resilience, thick skin as strength, thick skin as performance, thick skin as who I “should” be (vs. who I am), thick skin as hiding, thick skin as barriers between you and yourself and you and the world, etc. would come across by leaning into the literal in content and the poetic in form.