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This review is from: Lost Memory of Skin (Hardcover)
"Lost Memory of Skin" is a novel about an improbable subject, a twenty-two year old male sex offender named Kid. Convicted of a sex crime that is not revealed until well into the novel, he must wear a GPS anklet and is prohibited from living within 2500 feet of any place where he might encounter children. In short, he can't live anywhere and thus pitches his tent underneath the approach to a causeway, along with a motley group of others like him. The novel's setting, a city named Calusa, is clearly Miami. In the course of the novel, he is befriended by another odd character, a morbidly obese sociology professor who is studying homeless sex offenders and who attempts to help the Kid organize his life.
Neither the Kid nor the Professor (or "Haystack," as the Kid nicknames him) has a real name or a real identity. Both are addicts, of a sort. The Kid, barely educated, with no father and an indifferent mother, feels alive only when he consumes Internet porn. The Professor, highly intelligent and well educated, has been a "fat boy" loner since his youth and it is always alone that he consumes massive plates of food. Neither of these is a sympathetic character, and Banks does not minimize their moral failings.
In his idiosyncratic way, however, the Professor, who has evidently assumed and shed many identities in his past, begins, almost despite himself, to help the Kid achieve a true sense of identity. As the novel progresses, the Kid's self-awareness increases as it simultaneously becomes bound up in a murder mystery. Russell Banks is a powerful narrator with the ability to tell a good story while asking his readers to consider the situation of sex offenders, whose living restrictions make them the equivalent of modern day lepers. He will make you think about something you never thought you'd think about.
And by all means avoid the review by Helen Schulman in the New York Times Book Review. It commits the sin of giving away the plot while having nothing particularly interesting to say about the novel. You want to open this novel without knowing very much about its subject.