Lost Memory of Skin

( 25 )

Overview

After doing time for a liaison with an underage girl, the Kid is forbidden to live within 2,500 feet of anywhere children might gather. With nowhere else to go, the Kid takes up residence under a south Florida causeway. Barely beyond childhood himself, the Kid is in many ways an innocent, trapped by impulses and foolish choices he struggles to comprehend. Enter the Professor, a man who has built his own life on secrets and lies, and who finds in the Kid the perfect subject for his research on homelessness and sex...

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Lost Memory of Skin

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Overview

After doing time for a liaison with an underage girl, the Kid is forbidden to live within 2,500 feet of anywhere children might gather. With nowhere else to go, the Kid takes up residence under a south Florida causeway. Barely beyond childhood himself, the Kid is in many ways an innocent, trapped by impulses and foolish choices he struggles to comprehend. Enter the Professor, a man who has built his own life on secrets and lies, and who finds in the Kid the perfect subject for his research on homelessness and sex offenders. But when the Professor’s past resurfaces, the balance in the two men’s relationship shifts. Suddenly, the Kid must reconsider everything he has come to believe.

Lost Memory of Skin explores the zeitgeist of a troubled society where zero tolerance has erased any hope of subtlety and compassion—a society where isolating the offender has perhaps created a new kind of victim.

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Editorial Reviews

Janet Maslin
…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
Sue Miller
…like so much else Banks has written, this novel is ambitious and often compelling—a 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
Helen Schulman
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
Publishers Weekly
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.)
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.”
Miami Herald
“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.”
Boston Globe
“Russell Banks really does know how to pull his readers into a dark, dark world only to deliver us into the light.”
USA Today
“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.”
Pittsburg Post-Gazette
“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.”
Chicago Tribune
“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.”
Booklist
"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."
Janet Maslin
“Destined to be a canonical novel of its time... it delivers another of Banks’s wrenching, panoramic visions of American moral life, and this one very particular to the early 21st century... Banks, whose great works resonate with such heart and soul, brings his full narrative powers to bear.”
the Oprah Magazine O
“One of our finest novelists gives voice to the unspeakable…[A] compelling story”
Cornel West
“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.”
Michael Ondaatje
“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”
Library Journal
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
Kirkus Reviews

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.

The Barnes & Noble Review

In 2007, several sex offenders in Miami made national news when it came to light that they were living under a concrete causeway. They had taken up residence there because they had nowhere else to go. Miami, like several Florida cities, has some of the strictest sex offender laws in the nation. The men, convicted of sexually abusing children, were prohibited from living within 2, 500 feet of anywhere kids congregate—a restriction that rules out most urban real estate. They couldn't live in many neighborhoods even if the law would allow it. Sex offender registries that are searchable online have consigned them to what sociologists term "social death, " making it virtually impossible to secure a job, an apartment, or, God forbid, a date.

In Lost Memory of Skin, Russell Banks accomplishes what many a lesser novelist has merely attempted: He rips his story from the headlines. Using the rudiments of the case in Miami—where, incidentally, he lives when he's not at his home in Upstate New York—he sets in motion a tale that reflects the moral complexity of a country that has decided that, for some, there are to be no second acts. In imagining the strait-jacketed life of a young man whose broad category of crime puts him on the wrong side of a black-and-white line, making him guilty "even of just being alive, " Banks creates a study in disconcerting grays.

Over the past thirty-five years, in some dozen novels and several short story collections, Banks has bored into the psyches of criminals, deadbeats, and sexually abused girls. He tackled the mind of bloodthirsty abolitionist John Brown in Cloudsplitter, the paranoid alcoholic Wade Whitehouse in Affliction, and the fourteen-year-old drug dealer Bone in Rule of the Bone. He's a first-order observer of the fletching that guides human action.

In Lost Memory of Skin Banks takes aim at our received ideas about what's normal and what's just. The protagonist of his dark tale is a man in his early twenties known only as the Kid, on probation after committing a sex crime against an underage victim the nature of which remains unknown for much of the book. It is the human desire to know—a consuming and frankly prurient curiosity—that propels one through the story.

Relentlessly tracked by the GPS unit attached to his ankle and alienated from family and even from other sex offenders, all of whom regard each other with suspicion and, in some cases, disgust, the Kid forges a precarious existence as a busboy, a Dumpster diver, and the owner of woebegone pets. He gets by because he gives a wide berth to any situation that might get him into trouble. So he's leery when a professor from a local university takes an interest in him. The man, who has his own urges—he's enormously fat—and his own secrets, quickly becomes a resource as well as a confidant. His true motives remain uncertain, adding to the unease that permeates the story.

The Kid's evolution into that species of human we call a sexual predator proceeded, almost until the moment of his crime, on the basis of material that, in moderate doses, composes the sexual diet of many young American males. Shame was his constant companion. "First it was from watching his mother making it with some guy and then it was from jerking off all the time since he was ten and then skin magazines and Internet porn and when he got older it was porn DVDs and shows at sex clubs and sex chat room conversations on the Internet with teenaged girls until finally he got caught in the act so to speak and busted by the cops and it's all on YouTube for the whole world to watch and judge."

Though the novel remains tightly focused on the Kid and his fate, this tale of human urges perverted also reads as a parable of modern urban life—something abnormal constructed on a natural foundation. The city in which the Kid lives is itself draped over a chain of manmade islands, the Calusa Great Barrier Isles, on which sprout "planted palms and built marinas, beachfront hotels, golf courses and high-rise apartment buildings with ocean views." At one point, the Kid is prompted to wonder "if all across America there is some kind of strange invisible radioactive leakage like from high-tension wires or cell phones or road and mall parking lot asphalt that is turning thousands of American men young and old of all races into sex offenders?. He's heard about Twinkies having chemicals that can change a normal person into a murderer. Maybe junk food like Big Macs and Whoppers can damage the immune system of certain susceptible men and convert them into sexual offenders."

Yet for all this, Banks is no apologist. When he does finally reveal the details of the Kid's crime, there's been no grave misunderstanding that would allow us to endorse him as an innocent, only a series of circumstances that make his character sympathetic but a little distasteful. Without the question mark of the crime, however, the narrative tension of the book slackens. The professor's own bizarre quandary takes over, and Banks—who's never shied from supplying the inevitable rather than the comforting ending—leaves us a little in the dark.

Thought-provoking isn't quite the same thing as satisfying, but the dilemma Lost Memory of Skin poses sticks with you. At one point, the Kid asks a minor character, a magazine writer, "Is this what writers do all the time, sit around asking themselves questions that can't be answered?"

"Yeah. And when they can't answer them they write them down."

"Why?"

"To give somebody else a chance to answer them."

"Does it work?"

"Sometimes."

Sarah L. Courteau is the literary editor of the Wilson Quarterly. Reviewer: Sarah L. Courteau

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061857645
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/17/2012
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 615,356
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Russell Banks is one of America's most prestigious fiction writers, a past president of the International Parliament of Writers, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His work has been translated into twenty languages and has received numerous prizes and awards, including the Common Wealth Award for Literature. He lives in upstate New York and Miami, Florida.

Biography

Born in New England on March 28, 1940, Russell Banks was raised in a hardscrabble, working-class world that has profoundly shaped his writing. In Banks's compassionate, unlovely tales, people struggle mightily against economic hardship, family conflict, addictions, violence, and personal tragedy; yet even in the face of their difficulties, they often exhibit remarkable resilience and moral strength.

Although he began his literary career as a poet, Banks forayed into fiction in 1975 with a short story collection Searching for Survivors and his debut novel, Family Life. Several more critically acclaimed works followed, but his real breakthrough occurred with 1985's Continental Drift, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel that juxtaposes the startlingly different experiences of two families in America. In 1998, he earned another Pulitzer nomination for his historical novel Cloudsplitter, an ambitious re-creation of abolitionist John Brown.

Since the 1980s, Banks has lived in upstate New York -- a region he (like fellow novelists William Kennedy and Richard Russo) has mined to great effect in several novels. Two of his most powerful stories, Affliction (1990) and The Sweet Hereafter (1991), have been adapted for feature films. (At least two others have been optioned.) He has also received numerous honors and literary awards, including the prestigious John Dos Passos Prize for fiction.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      March 28, 1940
    2. Place of Birth:
      Newton, Massachusetts

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 25 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 25 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2011

    Excellent prospective on a highly controversial subject.

    This book deals with a growing issue in our society. Where do we house sex offenders. How they live in the places we put them? Should we lump all offenders in the same box? Can any of them be redeemed?

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 26, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    ¿Lost Memory¿ Is a Social Commentary on Sex Offenders and Homele

    ‘Lost Memory’ Is a Social Commentary on Sex Offenders and Homelessness

    Reading about homeless people is tough. Reading about sex offenders is even tougher. Reading about homeless, sex offenders can be downright difficult, which is what The Lost Memory of Skin by award-winning Russell Banks is all about. What’s interesting is that Banks manages to write about this difficult combination without making the reader squirm too much. Rather than being about sex offenses, it’s about people who live on the fringes of society and, in this case, they just happen to be in the national registry.




    Set in the Florida panhandle, the book follows two main characters, The Kid and The Professor. The Kid is 21 and a convicted sex offender living under an overpass with other convicted offenders. It’s one of two places in town that is the mandatory distance away from a school or public park and the group of men form, if not a friendship, then a cooperation of sorts based on their mutual exclusion from society. Life is fairly predictable until The Professor shows up wanting to interview The Kid about his day-to-day life. The Professor has a keen interest in the link between sex crimes and homelessness and The Kid spends a lot of time wondering what The Professor’s end game is.




    There were times when I was reading this book that I wasn’t sure whether I was enjoying it or not. It’s hard for me to read a book where I feel empathy for a character that I should probably hate. It was even harder because I had no idea what The Kid had done until much later in the book, so I had a lot of anxiety about what was to come. But when it was all said and done, the fact that I had an emotional reaction (good or bad) is an indication that it was worth the read.




    Now that I’ve had some time to look back and reflect, I have to admit that Banks‘ way of writing is rather brilliant. If someone had told me that the book was made up of characters with generic names I would have thought it was a cop-out and a way to avoid full character development. But Banks actually manages to develop the characters even more in-depth because of their generic identities. It allows the reader to focus on the issues that the characters face more fully than if they had actual names. Because ultimately, this isn’t a book about characters, it’s a social commentary. It’s about how one mistake can ruin someone’s life. It’s about how being cast out from society with nowhere to go results in a snowball effect. It’s about how being required to live a certain distance away from a school or a park can be pretty problematic when there isn’t any housing that meets the qualifications. It’s about how a community more or less forces homelessness and then tries to address its homelessness problem.




    So if you’re looking for a happy-go-lucky story, this is definitely not the book for you. But if you’re even slightly interested in reading The Lost Memory of Skin, then I highly recommend it. Along with all of the social commentary, there are some pretty great plot twists. Plus, it has an ending not unlike The Life of Pi in that it will leave you questioning everything. It can be slow-going and I didn’t love it while I was reading it, but looking back I find that I enjoyed it much more than I had originally thought.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 11, 2013

    ****

    Great story - dark and thought-provoking. At times it was very slow. I came to care about a character who, in real life, would never get a chance. The author did a great job of setting up the characters' personalities, investing me in each one.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2012

    Not recommended.

    Could not believe this was the same author that wrote the magnificent "Cloudsplitter".

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2012

    The author has no fear of writing about subjects that affect our

    The author has no fear of writing about subjects that affect our "civilized" society. I enjoy reading about socioeconomic issues, so this book intrerested me. I enjoyed the way he wrote from each perspective: the kid and the professor. The plot twists were intriguing. This book sent me to the library for Russelll Bank's short stories, another good read.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2012

    Excellent writing and thought provoking.

    Really good read.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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