“A hundred hearts would be too few to carry all my love for you.”
– The Weight on Skin
The Weight on Skin by Beena Khan
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Adult Fiction, Literary Fiction
Rep: South Asian, Muslim
Series: Red #2
Released: July 2020
Trigger and content warnings in both book and review // grief, graphic depictions of bullying, exploration of BDSM, physical abuse and child sex abuse.
There’s only so many times a heart can break.
One day, it will be okay, but it’ll heal all wrong.
It’ll heal with you outside of it.
Eight months gone, and Kabir still hasn’t moved from the woman he still loves. Red. The name like a song on replay in his mind. He looks for her in other women but is left empty every time he wakes up in the morning. Gone is the good boy image he once had, instead it’s replaced with a reckless playboy. He has the list of “Things To do” that Red left for him and placed it on his refrigerator, but he doesn’t know how to complete the tasks.
Because some secrets are too big to bury. Ghosts from his past come forward forcing him to confront himself and his lifestyle. His best friend Nadia left him and cut off all contact, but now she returns in his life. He has to face these ghosts without losing himself completely.
I want to thank the author, Beena Khan, for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.
If ‘The Name of Red’ read like a Nicholas Sparks novel, then ‘The Weight on Skin’ reads like a combination of Kal Ho Naa Ho and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. And I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that because it mostly took some of the most heartbreaking aspects of these two Bollywood classics. Apparently that’s just how life and love goes, but I refuse to accept this.
Kabir’s golden image in The Name of Red makes a lengthy disappearance in The Weight on Skin. He essentially begins to live Red’s life employing unhealthy coping mechanisms to hold onto his memories of Red. A string of never ending one night stands that seem to bring Kabir zero fulfillment. It’s difficult to read because Kabir is completely unrecognisable, devastatingly cold and distant. It isn’t until he finally comes around to starting on the to-do list that Red leaves behind that Kabir finally begins to make progress and possibly embark on a more hopeful future though not a completely perfect and satisfying one at that. Of course, that can’t ever really be the case in life now, can it?
While The Weight on Skin is strong in its exploration of bullying and unhealthy relationships, I think it needs a lot of polishing in the more technical aspects to really deliver the impact it should have done. I personally preferred The Name of Red because while it was character-driven, it wasn’t short of plot and twists and turns either and I felt a greater connection to the characters.
WHAT I LIKED – BULLYING, HEARTBREAK & EXPLORATION OF BOUNDARIES IN BDSM
TW // BULLYING
While much of Kabir’s emotional turmoil is triggered because he can’t move on from Red, Kabir’s childhood trauma resurfaces as a result too. Kabir was a victim of bullying in his teenage years, and there are scenes that will make you feel nauseous. I was honestly trying not to puke, that’s how horrifying it was. Coupled with his earlier heartbreak, Kabir leaves behind a trail of rejection and feelings of inadequacy which is finally triggered by trying to move on from Red. I found this exploration particularly realistic and helpful because while one event can trigger depression and PTSD, it takes into account the fact that it can cause old wounds to open up. Say for example, you suffer relentless job insecurity in your 20s, this can bring up trauma from your childhood where you didn’t feel enough and you weren’t seen, heard or validated or memories of the lack of resources and financial support during your childhood. All of this builds up until one event in your adulthood finally triggers depression. It brought to mind my interview with Osi in my ‘CoC’ series. Major props to author Beena Khan for her skilful exploration of mental health. Beena Khan is a therapist and it shows.
TW // BDSM & CHILD SEX ABUSE
Wafa, Kabir’s ex-girlfriend and former fiancé, played a huge role in Kabir’s life prior to Red’s arrival. The failure of the relationship is explored in The Weight on Skin as Kabir eventually confronts Wafa. With Wafa wanting more sexually, namely BDSM, Kabir’s gentle nature isn’t exactly suited to the sexual lifestyle that Wafa desires. What I found particularly concerning is that Wafa’s first boyfriend was 19-years-old, and she was only 16 at the time. I’m not sure what the age of consent is in the US, but her first boyfriend, in my opinion, took great advantage of Wafa and it leads me to question whether Wafa’s hypersexuality is a result of this. Hypersexuality*** is something, I hate to even say this, that can occur in your teens and adolescence if you were sexually abused as a child, and I know it’s something that I went through because of both CSA*** and having a 19-year-old boyfriend when I was 16. I hate to get personal, but this is such an important topic that warrants greater discussion because how many of us, millennials in particular, have had our first relationship with a man who was 19 while we were mere 16-year-old’s? Or maybe you were in your early teens. All I could think was, “Poor Wafa.” I don’t condone what she did to Kabir, but, dear Lord, I can sympathise with her, and Kabir clearly eventually understands. This was one of the stronger parts of The Weight on Skin. Kabir finally does an Arya Stark, “That’s not me,” and makes his peace.
***  Article: ‘Sex after Trauma (Pt. II): The Psychology Behind My Promiscuity
***  Blog post: ‘Breaking the Silence’
KABIR AND NADIA
Every step of the way, through all Kabir’s pain and trauma, Nadia was there as his best friend until she called it quits on her unrequited love in The Name of Red. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I could understand Nadia breaking off their friendship because it isn’t exactly healthy for her to carry on a friendship with someone who doesn’t return her love, so she can finally move on. But I didn’t understand her anger at Kabir for not reciprocating her feelings because, ***newsflash***, nobody is entitled to reciprocation of romantic feelings!
*** SPOILERS ***
I have to discuss this because I’ll explode if I don’t. I LIKED the friends to enemies to lovers dynamic between Kabir and Nadia. If you think about it, it’s a lot like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai initially. Red is Tina, Kabir is Rahul and Nadia is Anjali. But it eventually transforms into Kal Ho Naa Ho with Red becoming Aman, Kabir becomes Naina and Nadia is Rohit. Now being Anjali in KKHH would easily trump being Rohit in KHNH for Nadia, but this isn’t the case here. I wasn’t perfectly happy with how rushed Nadia and Kabir ultimately getting together was, there wasn’t enough time spent pining, yearning and marinating before it became something more. It all happened so quick and I couldn’t understand how Nadia could be happy with all of this! And if someone named their new medical practice after a nickname their ex called them, I would be fuming. Excuse me! The sheer disrespect. Boy, bye. Do you not want someone who worships the ground you walk on? Seriously, if I were Nadia, I would leave Kabir, that’s not the kind of love I would want. Same goes for Kabir. I can’t believe I’m using these words, but I AM BAMBOOZLED.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE – MORE PROOFREADING + EDITING, OUT OF CHARACTER MOMENTS & SUSPENSION OF BELIEF
There are some particular moments that don’t quite deliver the impact I expected it to. Take, for instance, Kabir smashing bottles. It didn’t feel nearly as cathartic as I hoped it would. It rambles on without reaching a climax where smashing the bottles would have likely made sense. Instead, it feels out of place and irrational. Another key theme that could have benefited from more editing is the bullying plot. Tighter, sharper and concise sentences as opposed to repetitive paragraphs would have been more helpful in exploring Kabir’s development of claustrophobia.
Now, this is an ARC, so I’m hoping that the final edit is much more polished. I came across a high number of grammatical and punctuation errors that were exceedingly difficult to ignore. Commas at the wrong places which meant that some sentences didn’t make sense (e.g. missing commas after a name), use of the wrong word (heart mended not heart amended, envelop her not envelope her), apostrophes used in sentences requiring quotation marks, names and words spelled incorrectly or missing a letter and repetitive words and phrases. At one point, I just gave up on noting down the grammatical and spelling errors. I sincerely hope that the final edit will have fixed the more technical errors because the themes and issues that are explored are incredibly promising, crucial and relatable.
Peppered throughout the depiction of Kabir and Wafa’s former relationship are pieces of Wafa’s poetry. Her poems are fairly straightforward, easy to read and comprehend (which is always great!), and it doesn’t require thinking too deeply to decipher its meaning… it’s plain as day exactly what Wafa means. Which is precisely why I just couldn’t understand how Kabir could be so obtuse in interpreting Wafa’s poetry. My guy, it’s right there in front of you, you’re reading it. It doesn’t make sense that Kabir, an avid reader, would struggle to decode poetry, and that too his own girlfriend. I think it was pretty much out of character for Kabir, even if Wafa was his first girlfriend.
Towards the end, it’s revealed that Kabir’s hallucinations were not a figment of his imagination, but, in … fact, real. Look, if you’re deeply and hopelessly romantic, this might work for you, but, for me, I just found it dramatic, and, agh, dare I say it? Cheesy. I thought this part could be left out altogether. It’s pretty akin to Tina appearing at the end of KKHH, but we’re under no allusion that it’s real.
What are your thoughts on The Weight on Skin? How do you think childhood trauma affects mental health in adulthood? Would you ever love someone who loves someone else more? How do you even know when a character is acting out of character? Let me know in the comments!