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The World Against Her Skin

John Thorndike

Virginia and Joe Thorndike have been married for twenty-two years, and now she wants a new life. She’s in love with Rich Villamano, a surgeon thirteen years her junior, but after flying to Miami to start living with him, he tells her he has changed his mind and they must go their own ways. In an instant their four-year affair is over. She takes off in his car, heading north with no luggage, no hope, no destination. She buys a bottle of gin and drinks it straight. Afraid that she’ll kill herself or someone else on the road, she abandons the car in Georgia, flies to New York and takes an airport hotel room. She has no home and nowhere to go.

The World Against Her Skin is a biographical novel in which much is remembered and much imagined. “I stay close to my mother’s story,” the author explains, “but to know the details I had to make them up.”

The World Against Her Skin - Cover

Paperback ISBN: 978-0-9994457-4-7

Ebook ISBN: 978-0-9994457-3-0

Acclaim for The World Against Her Skin

"It's a sad fact of life that there are some secrets too messy and toxic for mothers to tell their sons. With pull-no-punches storytelling, John Thorndike honors his mother by imagining those secrets."

—Rebecca Coffey, author of Hysterical: Anna Freud's Story

An "incredibly compelling book."

—The US Review of Books

"John Thorndike is scary. He writes about things other writers don't even want to think about, and does so in an understated, elegant prose that creeps up on a body and makes a mind go places it would otherwise avoid. In The World Against Her Skin, he takes us into his mother's addictions and sexuality, and treats those delicate subjects with insight and tenderness."

—Paul Kafka-Gibbons, author of Love. Enter and Dupont Circle

"A rousing portrait of a brave, imperfect woman.... A stunning drama that delves into one woman's bid for romantic satisfaction, even at the price of desolation."


"This is a hard story beautifully told. Thorndike recreates his mother's life, adding tales of his own. How he loves her, with all her faults. Following her separation from both husband and lover, Virginia Thorndike falls apart and recovers, again and again. I knew this was going to end badly, but could not stop reading."

—Natalie Goldberg, author of Three Simple Lines, Wild Mind and Old Friend From Far Away


Winner of the 2023 Peace Corps Writers Maria Thomas Award for Best Fiction

Author John Thorndike

John Thorndike grew up in New England, graduated from Harvard, took an MA from Columbia, then lit out for Latin America. He spent two years in the Peace Corps in El Salvador and two, with his wife and child, on a back-country farm in Chile. Eventually he settled with his son in Athens, Ohio, where for ten years his day job was farming. Then it was construction. His first two books were novels, followed by a memoir, Another Way Home, about his wife’s schizophrenia and his life as a single parent. A second memoir, The Last of His Mind, describes his father’s year-long descent into Alzheimer’s.

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