Top positive review
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"Sometimes the truth is too complicated to pass along..."
on December 6, 2011
This is a monumental achievement by one of America's finest writers. The "Lost Memory of Skin" is a book that will linger with you long after you've finished the last sentence. The story tackles tough subject matter, convicted sex offenders, sexual objectification of young people and the digitization of erotic content in a manner that doesn't lecture the reader. It does so with tremendous nuance that make stereotypes and simplistic judgements impossible.
At the heart of the story is the Kid, an early 20s sex offender living in a homeless encampment under a causeway in South Florida (Miami disguised as "Calusa") with other convicted sex offenders. Undoubtedly, the first couple of pages yield the normal disdain for the Kid because how else could you feel about a convicted sex offender. From this initial judgement and associated stigma, Banks slowly peels away the onion around the Kid --- his familial, social and economic circumstances --- until we are left with a far different perspective of a much more complex character. Only someone at the top of their craft could credibly build empathy around this type of character, blurring the lines between guilt and innocence, good and evil.
Shortly into the novel, we are introduced to the Professor, an obese genius with a shadowy and cryptic past, who is now a professor at the local university. There he studies and researches homelessness and more recently homelesses among sex offenders. An uneasy relationship builds between the Kid and the Professor -- is it exploitation, pure research with an eye toward better public consciousness and understanding of cause and effect of these two conditions or something else. Once again, Banks has full command, dropping enough crumbs for the reader without leading them to the meal. The truth is never what it seems for the characters and the reader, revealing more than meets the eye with each passing page while further obscuring other things.
In the last third of the novel, Banks adds an extra element of suspense and drama that had me on the fence for a while. I initially was quite skeptical of the plot twist and convinced myself it was not going to work, resulting in a big letdown and disaster from such a promising and brilliant beginning and middle. Well, I was certainly wrong. Banks effortlessly brings this last plot twist effortlessly back in a way that is remarkably true to the story and larger themes of the story without neatly wrapping a neat bow on each and every difficult question.
There are some parts of the book that left a terrible pit at the bottom of my stomach, one in particular at Benbow's where a video shoot is ambiguous enough but unnerving that I was nervous about where Banks was going to take it. Once again, I'm glad this was from the pen of someone as skilled as Banks.
"Lost Memory of Skin" is what great fiction is all about --- it is so engrossing you cannot put it down, it creates three dimensional characters, evokes a rich tapestry of place and time and tackles tough issues of the day with purpose but without lecturing or suggesting answers are simple.