For his latest novel, the acclaimed author of Cloudsplitter and The Sweet Hereafter again takes inspiration from a sanctuary of sorts. "The Kid," a young sex offender, lives with other registered offenders (including a disgraced state senator) in a makeshift camp beneath a Florida causeway based on a real colony that was shut down in 2010. After a police raid, the Kid meets "the Professor," a pompous, rotund man claiming to be researching homelessness. He wants to study—and cure—the Kid in order to prove his theories about society. But just as the study commences, the Professor, claiming that his life is in danger because of past work as a government spy, turns the tables, paying the Kid to interview him instead. Bloated and remarkably repetitive, this is more a collection of ideas and emblems than a novel. Though the Kid remains mostly opaque, he's a sympathetic character, but the nature of his crime, once revealed, lets Banks off the hook and simplifies rather than complicates matters. Banks continually refers to the Professor's weight and mental superiority, the latter a contrivance allowing for long rhetorical passages into the nature of man, sexual obsession, pornography, truth, and commerce that come as no surprise. Most frustrating is Banks's almost pathological restating of his characters' traits and motives, resulting in a highly frustrating novel in desperate need of an editor. (Sept.)
the Oprah Magazine O
“One of our finest novelists gives voice to the unspeakable…[A] compelling story”
From his makeshift tent in the shantytown under the causeway, the Kid can see the sun rise over the city of Calusa and feel the Atlantic breeze riffling the royal palm fronds. But the dichotomy between paradise and the squalor of the encampment is not lost on him. The only area within the city limits that is more than 2500 feet from a school, park, or library, the causeway bridge shelters homeless sex offenders on probation with nowhere else to go. Living in anonymity, the damaged group runs the gamut from a politician with a penchant for little girls to this lonely, asocial boy, whose only sexual relationship took place in an Internet chat room. When the Professor arrives to interview the Kid for a sociological study, the Kid wants to trust the man, and we hope he'll be saved through human interaction. But the Professor has his own demons. VERDICT Multiaward winner Banks (Affliction) has written a disturbing contemporary novel that feels biblical in its examination of good and evil, penance and salvation, while issuing a cri de coeur for penal reform. The graphic language may be off-putting for some but necessarily advances the theme of illusion vs. reality in the digital world. [See Prepub Alert, 4/18/11.]—Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Myers, FL
Banks (The Reserve,2008, etc.) once again explores the plight of the dispossessed, taking a big risk this time by making his protagonist a convicted sex offender.
He hedges his bets slightly: The Kid is a 22-year-old who got jailed for showing up at a 14-year-old girl's house with condoms, K-Y jelly, porn and beer after some sexy Internet chat. But Banks makes it clear that there are plenty of actual child molesters and "baby bangers" camped out with the Kid under a Florida causeway—because they're prohibited from living 2,500 feet from any place children under 18 congregate, which is pretty much everywhere. It's less clear whether the author agrees with the Professor, a sociologist specializing in the causes of homelessness, that pedophilia is a response to feelings of powerlessness and a disease of the modern media world that sexualizes children in advertising. Ambiguity rules in Banks' knotty narrative of the Kid's odyssey after police break up the encampment under the causeway (it's an election year) and he loses his job as a busboy. Was the Professor really a government informer back in the 1960s? Are his former bosses trying to kill him, as he claims? Maybe, but it's hard to tell. And Banks doesn't make it easy to like the Kid, addicted to porn since he started watching it on the Internet at age 10 to blot out the sounds of his mother having sex with her various boyfriends, so isolated by his own wounds that other people don't seem very real to him. Though there's plenty of plot, including a hurricane and a dead body fished out of a canal, the slow growth of the Kid's self-knowledge and his empathy for others is the real story, offering the only ray of hope in an otherwise bleak consideration of a broken society and the damaged people it breeds.
Intelligent, passionate and powerful, but very stark indeed.
…a major new work…destined to be a canonical novel of its time…it delivers another of Mr. Banks's wrenching, panoramic visions of American moral life…This book expresses the conviction that we live in perilous, creepy times. We toy recklessly with brand-new capacities for ruination. We bring the most human impulses to the least human means of expressing them, and we may not see the damage we do until it becomes irrevocable. Mr. Banks, whose great works resonate with such heart and soul, brings his full narrative powers to bear on illuminating this still largely unexplored new terrain.
The New York Times
…like so much else Banks has written, this novel is ambitious and often compellinga book that works with important ideas about the way we're reshaping our lives in the Internet age, while being reshaped ourselves, spiritually, sexually.
The Washington Post
This is bleak stuff, with flashes of humor that land like sparks on dry grass, and also pretty fascinating. A two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, Banks may be the most compassionate fiction writer working today, and the Kid is only his most recent lens into the souls of seemingly decent men who do terribly indecent things out of ignorance, thirst and desperation in a deeply uncaring world. Balancing impressively on a moral tightrope, Banks never absolves the Kid of his actions even as he sympathizes with him.
The New York Times Book Review
“Banks is a master of peeling back the veneer to show us for the desperate creatures we are, no more so than in his fearless Lost Memory of Skin…[Banks] writes here with a combination of compassion and outrage… a compelling read and an indictment of our age.”
Time Out New York
“[It] is a pleasure to see [Banks’] gift turned to big, semisurreal characters. The grand, rambling examination of guilt and blame takes place against a ravishingly bleak backdrop, lyrically described, while each revelation of character is like a quiet explosion.”
Associated Press Staff
“Lost Memory of Skin should be required reading for anyone interested in fixing the country’s broken criminal justice system…Banks, in his latest novel, takes an unflinching look at people at their worst and manages to turn it into art.”
Wall Street Journal
“His boldest imaginative leap yet into the invisible margins of society… Lost Memory of Skin is a haunting book.”
“Russell Banks really does know how to pull his readers into a dark, dark world only to deliver us into the light.”
“Banks reveals the two [characters] with tenderness and trenchant wit, in a story that, not surprisingly, plumbs the depth of human despair and resilience. If that prowess is predictable, Skin is bound to leave you shaken and strangely reassured.”
New York Times Book Review
“Banks may be the most compassionate fiction writer working today… Lost Memory of Skin is proof that Banks remains our premier chronicler of the doomed and forgotten American Male.”
“Mr. Banks knows plot, and incorporates intriguing complications to keep the novel building power all the way to the end.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Among contemporary writers giving voice to America’s beleaguered working class, Russell Banks may have no peer…this oddly unsettling, beautifully crafted novel…raise[s] fascinating issues.”
The New Yorker
“Banks’s enormous gamble in both plot and character pays off handsomely…By the end, Kafka is rubbing elbows with Robert Ludlum, and Banks has mounted a thrilling defense of the novel’s place in contemporary culture.”
“A ompelling story... one of those rare, strange, category-defying fictions that grabs hold of you... It’s hard to shake it off. And even when you do, it leaves a mark.”
"Banks is in top form in his seventeenth work of fiction, a cyclonic novel of arresting observations, muscular beauty, and disquieting concerns… a commanding, intrepidly inquisitive, magnificently compassionate, and darkly funny novel of private and societal illusions, maladies, and truths."
Booklist (starred review)
“Banks is in top form in his seventeenth work of fiction, a cyclonic novel of arresting observations, muscular beauty, and disquieting concerns… a commanding, intrepidly inquisitive, magnificently compassionate, and darkly funny novel of private and societal illusions, maladies, and truths.”
“Like our living literary giants Toni Morrison and Thomas Pynchon, Russell Banks is a great writer wrestling with the hidden secrets and explosive realities of this country.”
“Russell Banks’s work presents without falsehood and with tough affection the uncompromising moral voice of our time... I trust his portraits of America more than any other—the burden of it, the need for it, the hell of it.”
O: the Oprah Magazine
“One of our finest novelists gives voice to the unspeakable…[A] compelling story”