First published on 4 Jan 2012. Updated on 11 Jan 2012.
As evidenced in Rule of the Bone and Affliction, New York State novelist Russell Banks makes poetry of lives lived too long in the margins – whether the boundaries are social or within the confines of one’s own psyche – and he edges out further still with his new novel.
Set in a fictional part of Florida in a time of paranoia (possibly the near future), Lost Memory of Skin is the story of a twentyish sex offender (known simply as the Kid) on parole and the affable but troubled sociology instructor (called the Professor) on a misguided mission to help him become better adjusted.
The Kid is a wastrel addicted to Internet porn, with only his pet iguana for company, until an unfortunate series of events – beginning with an Internet chat with a underage girl and ending To Catch a Predator-style – lands him in prison. Upon his release, he is forced to live with other sex offenders under a causeway because of a law that keeps them 2,500 feet from anywhere children are playing. The Professor, a behemoth in a suit, begins interviewing the Kid for academic research purposes; and as he learns more about the Kid’s crime, he begins to reveal his own troubled history, which only undermines his efforts to help.
Banks inhabits unsympathetic voices well, and it is a pleasure to see his gift turned to big, semi-surreal 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. Banks’s tone is apocalyptic, and the story contains little room for uplift or redemption. But despite the gloomy forecast for the future of society, the author’s vision is nevertheless fascinating.
Lost Memory of Skin released February through the Clerkenwell Press, RRP$29.99 (paperback)