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Lost Memory of Skin: A Novel by Russell…
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Lost Memory of Skin: A Novel (edition 2011)

by Russell Banks

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4642822,360 (3.71)23
Member:brenpike
Title:Lost Memory of Skin: A Novel
Authors:Russell Banks
Info:Ecco (2011), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 432 pages
Collections:Your library, TIOLI 2012
Rating:****
Tags:12/12

Work details

Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks

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English (27)  French (1)  All languages (28)
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
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 |
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 |
Banks' offers us the perspective of someone that we would usually despise or dismiss outright and gives him his humanity, allowing the reader to watch him evolve as the narrative moves forward. This books says a good deal about our criminal justice system, but even more about how what it means to be a human being. It illustrates that humanity is achieved by realizing your mistakes, and by looking past the mistakes of others in hope that there is warmth and compassion to be found. We realize, thankfully, that such is the case for The Kid. ( )
  poetontheone | Jul 12, 2014 |
read 12/13,
a deeply felt statement about homeless sex offenders who, following release from prison, live in the shadows with few options available to them. The main character, known only as the Kid, is so naive that his life and its challenges are heartbreaking - I loved the kid and was rooting for him throughout -- wanted to keep him safe and was suspicious of anyone who offered him aid - the plot twists were unexpected and kept me intrigued throughout - a very human, absorbing story ( )
  njinthesun | Apr 15, 2014 |
A layered, well-written story that demonstrates modern social problems in an appropriately oppressive Florida setting.

This was the first book I read by Russell Banks, and after reading a few of his earlier books I really don't look at this one as being typical. There aren't any extramarital affairs going on in upstate New York between these pages...although there is sexual abuse, as a theme. ( )
  dysmonia | Apr 15, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:04:45 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

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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