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Lost Memory of Skin: A Novel by Russell…

Lost Memory of Skin: A Novel (edition 2011)

by Russell Banks

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5233219,336 (3.65)27
Title:Lost Memory of Skin: A Novel
Authors:Russell Banks
Info:Ecco (2011), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 432 pages
Collections:Your library, TIOLI 2012

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Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks

Recently added byeastlake_uk, private library, JimandMary69, Schlyne, Suze005, Jodeneg, lottpoet, alandeda
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English (31)  French (1)  All languages (32)
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
I feel like more people should read this sort of thing, just to open their eyes on the gaps in society, and some of the problems out there. For example, teenage sex offenders really shouldn't be labeled...20 with a 17 year old, I'm talking that sort of thing.

However, I lost interest in the main character early in the book, and that is never a good thing.
( )
  Schlyne | Nov 12, 2015 |
I don't ever remember finishing a book, putting it down, and saying aloud, "Well, that was a stupid book." Until now. The book had potential. It is about a young sex offender who is on probation and living under a bridge because he isn’t allowed to live within so many miles of day cares, schools, etc. He can’t leave the county, so under this bridge is the only place he can live. Then along comes this professor who is allegedly studying the connection between convicted sex offenders and homelessness. The form a friendship of sorts, but the character of the professor is just not very well developed and I just didn't get it.

The book had potential to make powerful statements about the complicated nature of pedophilia and other sex offenses, and it seemed like maybe it was going to get there, but it never really did.
( )
  klburnside | Aug 11, 2015 |
Not sure about this one, looks interesting but grim.
  mlake | Apr 28, 2015 |
Lost memory of skin by Russell Banks is a novel characterized by ambivalence. The story for this long novel is rooted in reality, focussing on a new type of outcast. It seems the authors wants to draw attention to social injustice, but the message of the novel is unclear because of the weird plot turns.

The weird plot turns are hard to explain, although the message seems to be that some people can get away with a great deal more than other people. This sense of moral injustice is created through the juxtaposition of the two main characters in the novel, the Kid and the Professor.

The novel describes the hopeless life of a new type of outcasts in American society. This outcast is formed by convicted sex offenders. The inhumane treatment of these people, and the, possibly unforeseen, consequences of the legal ramifications, such as the on-line sex offenders registry, their obligation to wear a GPS anklet and, worst of all, the legal measure which forbids them to live within 2,500 meters of a school, leads to such incredible limitations that they can barely find a spot to dwell in the city. Their lives are effectively destroyed and there is no escape from their predicament. Part of the ambivalence of the novel is that the novel depicts both seemingly very innocent "victims", such as the Kid, along with all other tpes of sex offenders, many of whom seem to be very deliberate, or likely recidivist. Whether or not through circumstance, some are involved in criminal activity, involving even more child abuse, as described in the photo shooting episode in the novel.

Non-Americans will be baffled by the inhuman legal practice in the United States, where tripping up by the police belongs to accepted legal procedure, while the sex offender's registry and other measures lead to medieval and life-long punishment and stigmatization.

The case of the Kid is presented as almost pure-bred innocence; a young man, who made a few stupid mistakes, and was set up and fell into a trap. There is much more to this simple story-line. The novel seems to suggest that, possibly, there are many more young men like the Kid. Their moral values are blurred by the ubiquitous availability of pornography, which in the life of modern teenagers has a very different status than in the lives and minds of older people. In fact, the social life of young people, as compared with that of an earlier generation, has changed to the effect that their "life on line" has replaced the more natural social life, which has led to loneliness, and inability to establish "normal" social contacts. As large parts of their lives take place on lone, so it seems natural that dating takes place on line as well. Essentially, the Kid is a recognizable, very possiblly realistic character. The Kid is quite obviously guilt-ridden. While, even yo himself, he is quite obviously an offender, he is also very much a victim.

The Professor, on the other hand, is a much darker, Falstaffian character. The picture that emerges of the Professor is that he is a highly intelligent person. His exceptionally superior intelligence enables him to conceal much of his life from others, effectively living multi-layered lives. The Professor is also described as hugely obese. This feature suggests that, despite his superior intelligence, his judgement is seriously flawed. His eating disorder is as much as symbol of his moral disorder: he thinks he can get away with anything.

As the "names" or "labels" (always capitalized) of the characters suggest, "the Kid", "the Professor" and "the Wife" are larger-than-life characters. They are caricatures. In the Kid, innocence is blown up and exaggerated. In the Professor cunning and intrigue are exaggerated. In the Wife, understanding and foregiveness, although this element plays only a minor role, towards the end of the novel.

Many of the surprising twists and turns of the plot involve antics of the Professor. The effect of these twists is to make the Professor an even more mysterious character. These plot turns, in all their capriciousness, suggest that even the Professor might conceal what the Kid is so obviously accused of, and that what brings them together, the Professor's interest in people like the Kid, or possibly even specifically the Kid, is a shared common secret. This shared secrecy is played out in the sub-plot of the Treasure Island myth.

Lost memory of skin is a complicated novel. It is a successful novel in as far as it makes readers think about this social problem. The novel also clearly speaks about the overall state of morals in the United States, not only the blurring or moral awareness of younsters, but also the injustice between the socially disadvantaged versus the socially advantaged, and a legal system which is clearly not ready to deal with new norms and a new reality.

Perhaps this is what the title of the novel, Lost memory of skin, hints at. A skin which can no longer adapt to its surrounding, either because it does not have the capacity to emulate the new colour for a new environment or has exhausted adaptiveness.

Finally, the Kid's pet, an iguana, is a freak. A freak of an animal that scares people. Perhaps it is also a reference to that other American novel that describes outcasts on the fringes of American society; Vollmann's The Rainbow Stories. ( )
  edwinbcn | Nov 1, 2014 |
This book is commendable for its sympathetic treatment of people who are so easily, and often, demonized, and ignored otherwise. Sure, we're given a main character who's easy to feel sorry for--'troubled,' 'misguided,' 'bumbling,' or even 'naive' seem more apt descriptors than 'criminal' for Kid. He's quite possibly the most likable convicted sex offender you'll ever meet. Though the rest of them, in this novel, appear at least to be human beings--which makes the book's point easy to see and agree with: even the most reprehensible criminals (which Kid, at least, isn't) ought to be treated humanely.

So the author here presents a definite social and legal issue that I at least was unaware of. As Kid's (albeit fictional) experiences show, the measures meant to reduce recidivism can become ineffective or entirely counteractive in practice, no matter how good they look on paper. Specifically, the fact that Kid and various others can't live within 2,500 feet of a place where children gather; that the only such place accessible to them is under a bridge; and that therefore they are forced to become homeless or violate the terms of their probation. Just to salt the wound a little, their little encampment is a target for police raids, since people aren't really supposed to live under the bridge (which is, of course, only to obvious to the residents).

So kudos to the author for raising awareness of real-life issues. Now, I'd have been really impressed if he'd managed that with a slightly-less-puppyish character than Kid--but I'm not about to fault Banks for not trying to write a sympathetic serial child molester as his main character, 'cause it probably wouldn't have gone well. And we do see a secondary character who pretty much is that, and the worst I can say about him is, he's a politician. Not likable, but more pathetic than evil. Human? Certainly. And so I s'pose he's there to add some nuance--unlikable, yes, but hardly 'demonic.'

But wait--we've got a problem. And it's bad enough that, in retrospect, I may bump my rating down to a 2, or a (token) 2.5, rather than a solid 3 or so. The Professor. I'm guessing the author needed him to make a 'story' of what was otherwise just a sort of 'snapshot'--inject some movement into the plot. Is all I can figure. Because he does that, sure, gets Kid to move literally, trying to find somewhere better to live, and to mentally shift from the role/non-life he's been cast into. Gives him some motivation, some interest in his future, all that. So, fine... but the part where the Professor turns out to be a former spy or secret/double/re-doubled/triple/whatever agent, who also has some kind of self-induced dissociative personality disorder in order to totally separate that life and his current life, and as we near the book's end is on the run, fearing that he'll be assassinated, framed for child molestation, and made to look like a suicide...

Was that really necessary?
No, seriously, I'm asking, because I want to know what I'm missing, otherwise. Because it seems like the author just didn't know what to do from a certain point, had no idea how to get further or how to end this story, and then decided that a load of Hollywood-esque insanity would just about do it. Because it's just too much, and it's fine how in the end we and Kid are left wondering a little, ambiguity is absolutely fine considering the ambiguity of morality and all that, which is in keeping with the themes here. But what's not okay to me and feels like some kind of cop-out is this grotesquely fat, genius, schizoid, misfit, generally eccentric, ex-spy-on-the-run who ends up in an unholy competition with Kid for the reader's attention. This jammed-in sub(?)plot seems to interfere with the rest of the story, and doesn't quite fit into things at all. I dunno. Surely there's some other way the author could have introduced some action and doubt and disposed of the Professor, without this odd car-wreck of genre/intent/focus.

So, yeah, I kinda ranted; luckily, I did most of it in the 'spoiler' bit, so it won't all show unless clicked on.

Overall? Would still recommend (so I guess I'll just leave the 3 stars), since it deals with interesting and important issues, legally and morally and socially, and it reads pretty well, and has decent characterization, for the main character at least...and I guess the parts I took issue with aren't so noticeable while reading, as by then I was into the story and the pace had picked up, things were happening, so as usually happens a lot of the critiquing has to wait until later. But, you know, while I wouldn't care to re-read the book (but I rarely re-read anything, anyway--too many unread books, too little time) it definitely made an impression, mostly a positive one, and I learned something. (Though it's an awfully poor book that doesn't teach the reader even one thing, however paltry.)

But as I'm sure I said already, for a book that deals with 'gray areas' of law, society, morality, etc--it's entirely fitting that I should come away with a somewhat ambiguous impression. ( )
  -sunny- | Jul 15, 2014 |
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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.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0061857637, Hardcover)

Amazon Best Books of the Month, October 2011: In Lost Memory of Skin, Russell Banks plays peek-a-boo with the reader lifting each corner just enough to wonder at what may lie underneath. When we meet the Kid, he is grappling with his public status as a convicted sex offender, living under a Florida causeway with other men whom society finds “both despicable and impossible to remove and thus by most people simply wished out of existence.” Enter the Professor, with his genius IQ and massive physical presence, eager to prove that men like the Kid have been shaped by social forces and are capable of change. The pair seem diametrically opposed yet share a “profound sense of isolation, of difference and solitude…,” held hostage by their secrets in this morally complex and thought-provoking story of illusions and blurry truths in a novel that that hums with electricity from beginning to end. --Seira Wilson

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:12 -0400)

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This is a 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 this 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. In this novel the author examines the indistinct boundaries between our intentions and actions. It 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.… (more)

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Average: (3.65)
1 2
1.5 1
2 4
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3 31
3.5 21
4 52
4.5 7
5 15


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