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Monday, November 14, 2011

Lost Memory of Skin

Lost Memory of Skin
Russell Banks
Ecco Press, 2011

The Kid is a young sex offender who has no choice but to live with other outcasts in a makeshift homeless camp under a south Florida freeway. He and the other sex offenders are required to live outside society because of a law which restricts them from going within 2500 feet from any school, church, daycare, or virtually any other place that children or teens may frequent – which pretty much rules out every place except the underpass.

The Kid has a job, a bicycle, and a tent, so he can get by. He and the other ex-cons have figured out ways to charge their ankle bracelets with a generator (for a fee, of course); they know the best locations to dumpster dive for groceries; they have learned how to survive in a society that has only contempt and disgust for them. The Kid, who was kicked out of the army, had a troubled upbringing but he doesn’t blame his mother for leaving him alone for long periods of time. Although some people would accuse her of neglect so profound it could be considered abusive, The Kid figures she was doing the best she could, and it wasn’t her fault he discovered online pornography at a young age, which led to his subsequent downfall and current situation. If anything, The Kid was so na├»ve and trusting and desperate for human contact, that he did a stupid thing that he will pay for the rest of his life. He knows the score.

When the Professor shows up, the Kid is naturally suspicious and does not let his guard down for even a minute. The Professor teaches sociology and thinks he can rehabilitate The Kid as a social experiment. He gives The Kid money and counseling sessions, but the Professor is not everything he seems and his past starts to haunt him. He enlists The Kid to help him, which he does despite his misgivings, and the two men develop a relationship based on trust and friendship – something The Kid has never before experienced in his life.

I never thought I would feel such compassion and caring for a character like The Kid. He is definitely a victim of his own mistakes, and while I certainly would never condone his choices, I kind of understand why he made them. Many lonely people survive in this sad world without resorting to doing wrong. In fact, The Kid makes no excuses for himself. He doesn’t expect any special favors, nor does he bemoan his condition, but he does get tired of living in a tent under the freeway with other lowlifes like himself. This book is not a feel-good story: it raises many questions about rehabilitation and sexual predators and societal pressures. It will make you wonder about sex offenders trying to survive in a world that hates them and what, if anything, we should do about that. But it’s The Kid -- a young man who finally learns how to love someone else -- who will stay with you long after the book ends.


Other novels by this author:
Affliction (1989)
Rule of the Bone (1995)
Cloudsplitter (1998)
The Darling (2004)
The Reserve (2008)
Outer Banks: three early novels (2008)

Other titles you may enjoy:

The Echo Maker by Richard Powers (2006)
Twenty-seven-year-old Mark Schluter, suffering from a rare brain disorder that causes him to believe his sister to be an impostor, endeavors to discover the cause of the motor vehicle accident that resulted in his head injury.

Invisible by Paul Auster (2009)
Poet and student Adam Walker meets the enigmatic Frenchman Rudolf Born and his silent, seductive girlfriend, Margot, sending Adam into a perverse triangle that leads to a shocking act of violence that will alter his life.

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee (1999)
In a novel set in post-apartheid South Africa, a fifty-two-year-old college professor who has lost his job for sleeping with a student tries to relate to his daughter, Lucy, who works with an ambitious African farmer.

1 comment:

  1. Not typically something I would read, but it sounds interesting. I just might give it a try.

    It was so nice to meet you last week!