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[511] Lost Memory of Skin – Russell Banks

” Maybe the Internet is the Snake and pornography is the forbidden fruit because watching porn on the Internet is the first thing the Kid remembers lying about. He was only ten years old that summer and he remembers getting his first real hard-ons from listening to his mother screwing her then boyfriend in her bedroom. ” (411)

Lost Memory of Skin sketches a curious cast of misfits that are lower than the low, dispossessed by the society. They are convicted sex offenders who wear GPS monitoring anklets to ensure they do not dwell within 2,500 feet of any location where children might congregate. Among the outcasts that reside in an ad hoc colony underneath the viaduct that connects the Great Barrier Isles on Florida’s Gulf coast is the Kid, a 22-year-old who has been convicted of soliciting sex with a minor.

What’s the point of trying to solve your problems and get ahead in life if the only problems you can solve are the little meaningless housekeeping ones and you’re never going to get ahead in life anyhow because you’re a convicted sex offender and are condemned to be one for the rest of your life even if you never commit another sexual offense. (281)

Raised by a hedonistic, single mother who is neglectful of him, the Kid grows up alone and only finds solace in his pet iguana. He is porn-numbed and withdrawn, indulging in his own solitary world. He joined the army but only to be discharged for distributing porn. But the Kid is really more innocent than most at his age—he has never had a girlfriend or meaningful emotional experience. He is more guilty of stupidity than sexual predation, trapped by impulses and choices he cannot comprehend. The circumstances by which he got busted and incriminated are nebulous and not elucidated until halfway through the novel.

And [the Professor] needs to cure the Kid in order to prove his theory that pedophilia is the result of social forces, a sexual malfunction shaped by a malfunctioning society. It’s not a mystery; it’s not even a psychological disorder. Because if it is a mental illness, then the entire society is to one degree or another sick with it. (165)

A sociology professor becomes entwined with the Kid—he wishes to further his understanding between homelessness and pedophilia. His possibly deceitful interest in the Kid, and sex offenders in general, propels Lost Memory of Skin through still water but triggers a current when his own shady past—“each of his pasts was designed at the time strictly to deny the existence of the others” (235)—and multiple identities return to haunt him. The book has a narrative that is two-pronged but uneven in terms of getting the points across. Although the Kid comes to terms with his mistrust and passivity and musters up courage to believe again, the book only dabbles at the social forces that might cause pedophilia. Gullibility of the anonymous realm of the internet and how it might incur changes in life is left unexplored. I’m left thoroughly divided and unsatisfied about this book.

416 pp. Harper Collins. Paper. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

4 Responses

  1. This book sounds very dark, and while it sounds like it could possible have potential, you were unsatisfied, so I’ll keep it off my list!

  2. […] books read in October truly made the month a fest. It started off with the slightly disappointing LostMemory of Skin, which sketches a curious cast of misfits that are lower than the low, dispossessed by the society. […]

  3. […] The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst, and Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks. All three are revered authors whom I highly regard. Regrettably, none of their […]

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