“Lost Memory of Skin”, by Russell Banks

Fiction, published in 2011, available on Amazon.

Serendipity is such a great way to find a new author to love, and one of the best places I know for it to happen is on the last chance shelves at the book store. My latest find is Russell Banks – I spotted “Lost Memory of Skin” on the 75% off shelf. I recognized his name but couldn’t remember whether it was because he was very good, very bad, or had a name that sounded like some celebrity I may or may not have heard of. Anyway, the book had a lurid striking green cover with a picture of an iguana on it and for some reason that spoke to me. And for a few cents over dollar, why not? So I snagged it.

The main protagonist, “the Kid”, is a young man who is a convicted sex offender, who is also an internet porn addict, who is living under a bridge with a bunch of other sex offenders. Pretty icky, right? Eeuw. No wonder the book ended up in that pile.

And yet … I couldn’t put it down.

The Kid meets “the Professor”, a sociologist interested in researching homelessness among convicted sex offenders. As they interact more and more, their stories weave like the shifting waterways in the Florida swamp where the Kid eventually finds himself. The point of view shifts between the Professor and the Kid, both of them individuals with a slippery grasp on “reality” – such that by the end of the book the reader’s own assumptions about real and not-real, right and wrong, good and evil are challenged.

Two minor irritants: Like many modern books, this one is written in the present tense. Banks does a better job than most at sustaining this, but every now and then he fumbles his tenses and that can jar. Also, while sometimes the voice is clearly that of the protagonist – either the Kid or the Professor – Banks doesn’t maintain that as effectively as he should have done. Their voices blur, and although that may have been intentional, I don’t think it was.

Nonetheless, this is a book that will stay on my shelves for the foreseeable future, and I’ll be looking for more by the same author.

Author: Belladonna Took

Well into my second half-century and still trying to figure out what to be when I grow up. Born South African, naturalized American, perpetually at risk of losing my balance and landing ass-first in the Atlantic.

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