Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
It's a little tricky to rate this book, whether one star because of what I viewed as serious shortcomings, or somewhere in the 2-3 star range, which would indicate that I appreciated some of what Banks does here, although with some misgivings.
I'll start by what I liked. You may know that the story is based on the fact that there are places in the United States, such as Miami, where the hysteria about sex crimes is so severe that there is literally no place a convicted sex offender is allowed to live, aside from a rough settlement under a highway overpass or similar setting. Banks effectively explores the lives of men, not all of whom are convicted of serious crimes or pose a real danger to the public, focusing on a 22-year-old convict who prefers to be known only as The Kid. In this narrative we learn of The Kid's disastrous upbringing by a mother who could only aspire to being grossly neglectful, as well as how he and his fellow convicts try to live under the Causeway in fictional Calusa, Florida.
Our entree into this underworld is The Professor, a secretive, morbidly obese sociology professor who forces himself into The Kid's life to study the existence of these men and to test his theory that by providing them with a sense of autonomy he can cure them.
Unfortunately, The Professor is also the most glaring flaw in the novel. Slapped onto the story of the Kid and his fellow convicts is an ultimately ridiculous sidetrack into a world, possibly imaginary, of the Professor's history as a spy or counterspy, leading to visits from shadowy characters, possibly from unknown spy agencies, a flight across state lines literally in the eye of a hurricane, and a resolution that leaves most questions unanswered.
I don't demand that an author answer every possible question, but the Professor's spy plot is so intrusive that it seems as much of a distraction from the real story as if someone had decided to add a zombie war into a novel by Jane Austen.
I chose the book, and I was probably the only member of my book group with such a negative response to it, but even though I've liked Russell Banks in the past I cannot recommend this one.
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