Friday, October 21, 2011

Book Review: Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks

I'm not sure if it's just me or if it's a publishing trend, but I seem to have read several books this year dealing with pedophilia/sex offenders.  This one was less focused on pedophilia and more focused on what happens to those who are labeled as sex offenders.  It tells the story of Kid, who is in his young twenties and is arrested for soliciting sex with a minor.   He actually reminds me of many of my students - emotionally, socially, and intellectually immature. 
He goes to prison and we meet him immediately after his release.  Because he is on probation, he cannot move away from his home in the Florida Keys, but he can also not live within a certain radius of any place where children gather.  His record keeps him from getting jobs, apartments, etc and he winds up living with a group of homeless sex offenders in a tent city.  There he meets a man named The Professor who is doing research on sex offenders in the tent city - but who is hiding secrets of his own.

This falls in the "literary fiction" genre and it fits in well.  It's not exceptional for the genre, nothing leapt out at me as really amazing, but it was better writing than you're going to find in the typical popular novel.  I don't have much to say good or bad about it.

Entertainment Value
I was more interested in the idea of the book and the thoughts inspired by the book than the book itself.  For example, I do think that the way we label sex offenders is flawed, although I'm not sure what exactly I would change.  It's important to protect families and children, obviously, but, as in Kid's case, it seems that in some ways the sex offender registries keep those who could be rehabilitated from having a chance at living normal lives.  So that premise interested me, but the way the book addresses it was much less interesting than I had hoped.  It focused more on the story with the Professor and the secrets surrounding his life.  When those secrets are finally revealed they are much less interesting than what the reader is led to imagine.  The entire Professor plot point, which was a majority of the novel, really took away from the issues the story could have addressed for a much more interesting and thought-provoking story.

At the end of the day, I just don't recommend it.  I had to force myself to finish - and had I not been halfway through by the time I realized it wasn't going to get better, I probably would have given up. 


  1. I recently read a book by Russell Banks (Cloudsplitter) and thought that it was good but not exceptional. That must kind of be his thing.

    I kind of have issues with the labeling of sex offenders too. Mostly I feel like people that just, you know, were 20 and had consensual sex with their 17 year old girlfriend who got caught by their dad, or whatever should be labeled differently than someone who was running a child porn business. It seems crazy that these crimes are classified the same.

    Thanks for a great review!

  2. I read this book and loved it. I was especially taken with Banks' descriptions of the landscape of Florida -- the way the land and swamps were formed, the wildlife, the effect of the hurricane. I also think Banks has a talent for helping the reader get inside the characters' skulls. I could see the world through the Kid's eyes and the Professor's eyes. And I thought the book was, at the end, uplifting. I admit that I'm a long-time fan of Banks' books so I start each one expecting to like it. I thought Continental Drift was one of the best books I've ever read. I've never read The Sweet Hereafter and don't intend to. I have two children and can't bear the thought of reading a book where children die in a bus accident.

    Enjoyed your review!

  3. Thanks for the comment, Pam. While I wasn't a huge fan of this one, I'd be up for giving Banks another try. You are right that the setting was very well done.

    Jacki - I'll have to go back and look at your review of Cloudsplitter. I've heard a lot about that one.