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Friday, March 9, 2012

LOST MEMORY OF SKIN (RUSSELL BANKS)


Story Description: 

The author of Continental Drift, Rule of the Bone and The Sweet Hereafter returns with a very original, riveting mystery about a young outcast, and a contemporary tale of guilt and redemption. 
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.  Suspended in a modern-day version of limbo, the young man at the centre of Russell Bank'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, he is shackled to a GPS monitoring device and forbidden to go near where children might gather.  He 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. Enter the Professor, a university sociologist of enormous size and intellect who finds in the Kid the perfect subject for his research. But when the Professor's past resurfaces and threatens to destroy his carefully constructed world, the balance in the two men's relationship shifts. Banks has long been one of our most acute and insightful novelists
Lost Memory of Skin is a masterful work of fiction that unfolds in language both powerful and beautifully lyrical. 

My Review: 

The Kid strolls into a public library one afternoon and enlists the help of a librarian to look up sex offenders in his area.  After typing and clicking for a couple of minutes, a map of his mother’s street comes up and along with it a mug shot of the Kid himself.  The librarian recognizes him immediately but isn’t afraid.  However, the Kid is and he beats it out of there and returns to his home under a Florida Causeway with the other sex offenders. 

He rides around on a Raleigh three-speed bike that he keeps locked to a pillar when he’s not using it.  He’d stolen the bike, taken it apart and spray painted it and bought a black carbon steel cable lock for it. 

The Kid also has a pet Iguana that he has leashed to a cinder block.  His name is “Iggy”.  When it was young it was only 8 or 10 inches long, bright green and cute.  Twelve years later it’s the length and weight of a full-grown alligator – six feet head to tail and twenty-seven pounds, but no longer cute.  Iggy was the only creature other than himself that he had ever cared for and he decided to care for it the way he wished someone had cared for him – as if the iguana were a human child and he were its parent.  

The Kid is a loner and prefers to keep it that way.  In his mind he’s a one-and-only one of a kind.  And even among loners he’s unique. Singular. 

Local folks don’t know him and even if they 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.  Like most of the men living under the Causeway they are legally prohibited from going online.  But the Kid can’t get away as he has a GPS monitor clamped to his ankle.  One of the other guys under the Causeway has a generator and buys fuel for it and runs it every night from seven till eleven and sometimes later depending on business.  He has it wired to a twelve-volt outlet surge protector and all the residents pay him a dollar each to recharge their cell phones if they have one and their anklet batteries.  If you don’t recharge your anklet battery you violate a key term of your parole and you go back to jail. 

The Kid’s mother’s name is Adele but isn’t married to his biological father who was a roofer.  After he was born his mother had boyfriends pretty constantly who lived in her house with her and the Kid for up to six months on a few occasions but none of them stuck around long enough to claim the Kid as his own or take responsibility for educating or protecting him.  Adele needs men to want her but she doesn’t want men to need her – not even the Kid.  Although she does know that and would deny it if asked.  She feels she’s done what she can for him and is therefore not responsible for how he turned out. 

He visited his mother’s house only when she wasn’t home and he would gather food supplies, use the toilet, and every few days to shower and do his laundry.  Most of the time when he wasn’t at school or taking care of Iggy or the two of them were just sitting there staring at each other he watched pornography online and charged it to his mother’s visa.  He had a full-time job at a lighting store after he graduated right up until he enlisted in the army.  

One day the Kid meet the Professor who is studying homelessness and is well-known in the community as an absolute genius.  At this point the story takes off in a whole other direction and for me, almost seemed like two different books!  It became this convoluted mumbo-jumbo that ruined the entire book.  I was deeply disappointed and had a very difficult time finishing.  I only finished because by the time the Professor surfaced I’d invested a lot of time in this book.  I’m not sure I’d recommend this one to my friends, at least not without a warning.

2 comments:

  1. Shoot - it was sounding so good until the professor showed up. I hate it when authors do that. Nice review.

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  2. Dana, you might like the book. Just because I didn't doesn't mean you won't. It just felt wrong and ruined the whole story for me as it was sooooo good at the beginning.

    Thanks for your comment. I can always count on you!

    Louise

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