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.
©2011 Russell Banks (P)2011 HarperCollinsPublishers
There will come a time when we look back at the sex registry as a shameful period in American history similar to the Salem Witch Trials and the Puritanism of the 'Scarlet Letter.'
I have been waiting for someone to write this book and Russell Banks has done it.
It is the story of the 21st century's Huck Finn - tortured by a system he can't understand and sentenced to a lifetime of excommunication from society. The really terrific thing about this book is that it is not didactic or preachy. It is lyrical and funny and a wonderful yarn.
Everyone who has had anything to do with someone on a sex registry will want to read this. This includes perpetrators and victims. If you haven't and you want to know what it is like, read this book. If you just want to hear a great story read this book!
Russell Banks has outdone himself and given a much needed glimpse into a subculture in Lost Memory of Skin. A rambling story, Lost Memory considers guilt, criminality, justice, and character in a way that draws the reader in immediately. Along the way the reader learns about hardship, despair and resilience in a way not often seen. Other reviewers have aptly covered the outlines of the story. Just let me say that this is one book that will follow you for weeks after you have finished it. If you have never read Russell Banks, this one will make you a believer. The reading of Scott Shepherd is excellent.
The description of this book sparked my interest. I wanted to like it, really I did!! I found "The Kid" and "The Professor" pathetic, sad and boring. Parts of the story are intriguing, then, unfortunately, the author goes off on a tangent. I agree with the previous reviewers, the way in which our justice system handles sex offenders is awful, dehumanizing, and unfair. I just didn't like this story. Scott Shepherd did an amazing job, as usual!!!
Between the writing, theme, narration and provocation this is a top 10 of my over 500 audiobooks.
A subtle and sublime examination of an area of life not examined, but simply accepted by most. Like the Tortilla Curtain, it forces you to reconsider and examine preconceptions and assumptions. Jennifer Egan comes to mind.
If you think that Scott Brick is the best out there, move on. This is a far more subtle and engaging performance than Bricks over emoting.
This is my granddaughter's picture! She is my love.
I expected to see the problems a young man would have living with the stigma of being a sex offender. This is a big part of the story, but definitely not the story. I liked the book a lot, and I liked the story a lot, I just wish the summary included more about what it is actually about. It is about a relationship with people on the edge; having no alternatives. Then there is the mystery of the professor and the kid, that is the part that I continue to think about. To me taking a question away from a book and bringing it into my own thoughts after the story is over makes the book a success.
The story line follows characters on the fringe of American life; the outcasts. Some of these people deserve to be where they are and some, not so much. It's an interesting dilemma in our society that we tend to shelve and ignore. This book is very well written, read and has much to ponder.
This book is not "heavy" or difficult to read in spite of its topic.
Since taking my first creative writing class in 2008 the pleasure I used to get from reading has been greatly reduced. I notice things I never noticed before. That said, I think I rate books pretty generously. Anyone who actually manages to write a whole book and then get it published deserves an extra star.
Banks masters the arts of character development and plot construction. Scott Shepherd's reading was spot-on.
He read each character's voice exactly the way I would imagine them speaking, with just the right difference in tone or accent to make it clear who is talking. Even the female characters (of which there aren't many).
Caught between a rock and a hard place.
I wasn't particularly drawn to reading a novel about the plight of America's convicted sex offenders but after hearing Russell Banks speak last summer, I decided to pick up the book. The story was gripping, the characters were fully drawn out, and Banks keeps the action and the suspense going until the very end.
I first fell in love with Banks' work after reading his incredible novel 'Rule of the Bone'. 'Lost Memory of Skin', for me, fell into the same ranks as that one--compelling, conflicting, and emotional. In this novel, Banks was able to take a subject that I thought I already had a well-formed opinion on and turned me upside down about it. How could someone actually care about and root for a sex offender as a main character? I figured I would hate the Kid right away, but as time went on I found myself more on the side of the guys under the Causeway than anyone else.
I found this book interesting for a number of reasons, but perhaps the most interesting analytical point is the characters' names. You don't actually know the Kid's name, nor the Professor's, and so on. It is really only Cat Turnbull and Dolores whose actual names are given in the book. When Banks describe the choosing of each of the men's nicknames under the Causeway, it gives rise to a larger theme in the book--the shaping of identity counter to societal labels. The Kid chooses his name as an identity other than his given one as a sex offender. He is only the sex offender when he has to give his real name. The same is true for Rabbit, Plato the Greek, Ginger, Paco, and so on. This also suggests the notion that who we are and what we are are two completely different things, and you see this play out over and over again in the book.
As far as entertainment value goes, the story moves slow but steady throughout and while it doesn't really reach an anxiety-ridden climax and conclusion, it definitely keeps the reader engaged. Some of it sort of felt unbelievable, more so at first, but as the book went on and details about the life of a sex offender were revealed, it fell into place a bit more. Everything seemed to work well right up until the interview with the professor, where we learn about what's going to happen to him. That part, in comparison to the rest, seemed rather artificial and forced. The ending as well felt a little inorganic, though still satisfying. The one redeeming thing about the ending however was that the mystery of the Professor wasn't really solved. I am the type of reader who enjoys when books end in mysteries. It allows the reader to decide for themselves what really happened.
The performance of the piece was great. Scott Shepherd did a fantastic job. His narration really brought the characters and the city of Calusa to life for me. I would definitely listen to one of his audiobooks again.
The story drew me in, in a sick sort of way, like gawking at an accident.
"The kid" is a sad sack, who never really got a fair chance in life, but you can't help rooting for him and hoping he'll get a break. The narration over all was excellent.
I couldn't stop listening, carried along by curiosity and the beautiful descriptions of characters and settings, but my heart ached for them all.
The tale starts out almost believable, but slowly devolves into a series of vignettes of weird caricatures, and (unfortunately) "the professor" and his story become convoluted beyond recognition. I'm not sure if I exactly recommend this book, but it is certainly a memorable experience and well-crafted in many, but not all, respects.
“Lost Memory of Skin” is a surprisingly good book; surprising because it deals with two repulsive characters: a predatory sex offender and a morbidly obese professor with lots to hide. But, it is the capacity of literature in the hands of good writers like Russell Banks, to illuminate the interiors of such outwardly offensive characters, so that understanding eventually generates sympathy. In “Lost Memory of Skin,” Banks does not indict (that is left to the reader) nor does he preach, although he comes close at times. Rather, this is a disturbing look at some important aspects of contemporary American life, which does not provide answers, but inexorably indicates that there must be a better way. The achievement of “Lost Memory of Skin” is that it blends an exciting and suspenseful plot with existential angst. I agree with Janet Maslin writing in the NYT: “’Lost Memory of Skin’ is a major new work by Russell Banks destined to be a canonical novel of its time.”
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