Summary and book reviews of Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks

Lost Memory of Skin

A Novel

by Russell Banks

Lost Memory of Skin
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2011, 432 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2012, 432 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Mark James

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Book Summary

Lost Memory of Skin is a provocative novel of spiritual and moral redemption from Russell Banks.

The acclaimed author of The Sweet Hereafter and Rule of the Bone returns with a provocative new novel that illuminates the shadowed edges of contemporary American culture with startling and unforgettable results.

Suspended in a strangely modern-day version of limbo, the young man at the center of Russell Banks's uncompromising and morally complex new novel must create a life for himself in the wake of incarceration. Known in his new identity only as the Kid, and on probation after doing time for a liaison with an underage girl, he is shackled to a GPS monitoring device and 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, in a makeshift encampment with other convicted sex offenders.

Barely beyond childhood himself, the Kid, despite his crime, is in many ways an innocent, trapped by impulses and foolish choices he himself struggles to comprehend. Enter the Professor, a man who has built his own life on secrets and lies. A university sociologist of enormous size and intellect, he finds in the Kid the perfect subject for his research on homelessness and recidivism among convicted sex offenders. The two men forge a tentative partnership, the Kid remaining wary of the Professor's motives even as he accepts the counsel and financial assistance of the older man.

When the camp beneath the causeway is raided by the police, and later, when a hurricane all but destroys the settlement, the Professor tries to help the Kid in practical matters while trying to teach his young charge new ways of looking at, and understanding, what he has done. But when the Professor's past resurfaces and threatens to destroy his carefully constructed world, the balance in the two men's relationship shifts.

Suddenly, the Kid must reconsider everything he has come to believe, and choose what course of action to take when faced with a new kind of moral decision.

Long one of our most acute and insightful novelists, Russell Banks often examines the indistinct boundaries between our intentions and actions. A mature and masterful work of contemporary fiction from one of our most accomplished storytellers, Lost Memory of Skin unfolds in language both powerful and beautifully lyrical, show-casing Banks at his most compelling, his reckless sense of humor and intense empathy at full bore.

The perfect convergence of writer and subject, Lost Memory of Skin probes 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.

Part I
Chapter One

It isn't like the Kid is locally famous for doing a good or a bad thing and even if people knew his real name it wouldn't change how they treat him unless they looked it up online which is not something he wants to encourage. He himself like most of the men living under the Causeway is legally prohibited from going online but nonetheless one afternoon biking back from work at the Mirador he strolls into the branch library down on Regis Road like he has every legal right to be there.

The Kid isn't sure how to get this done. He's never been inside a library before. The librarian is a fizzy lady - ginger-colored hair glowing around her head like a bug light, pink lipstick, freckles - wearing a floral print blouse and khaki slacks. She's a few inches taller than the Kid, a small person above the waist but wide in the hips like she'd be hard to tip over. The sign on the counter in front of her says Reference Librarian, Gloria... something - the Kid is too nervous ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Most novels have a hero of some sort, but this author doesn't limit himself with such a conventional literary device. There are no heroes here, only predators and victims, and sometimes they are one and the same. Banks has provided yet another masterful glimpse into the shady side of life, but it takes a little shade to appreciate the sunshine.   (Reviewed by Mark James).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Bloated and remarkably repetitive, this is more a collection of ideas and emblems than a novel... a highly frustrating novel in desperate need of an editor.

Kirkus Reviews

Intelligent, passionate and powerful, but very stark indeed.

Library Journal

Starred Review. 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.

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.

Author Blurb 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.

Author Blurb 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.

Reader Reviews

Louise J

Disappointing!
I was deeply disappointed and had a very difficult time finishing. I only finished because I’d invested a lot of time in this book. I’m not sure I’d recommend this one to my friends, at least without a warning.

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Beyond the Book

The Julia Tuttle Causeway Sex Offender Colony

Lost Memory of Skin revolves around a colony of convicted sex offenders residing beneath the Archie B. Claybourne Causeway, which connects the city of Calusa, Florida with the bordering Great Panzacola Swamp. Banks's vivid descriptions bring these fictional locations to life, and though they are imaginary, both the city and the colony bear a striking resemblance to real-life Miami and the community of sex offenders living under the Julia Tuttle Causeway.

Julia Tuttle Causeway

In 2005, Miami-Dade County passed one of the most stringent sex offender laws in the country; it stated that registered sex offenders could not live within 2,500 feet of a school, bus stop, park, or any other place that children might gather. According to the American Civil ...

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