cover image Lost Memory of Skin

Lost Memory of Skin

Russell Banks. Ecco, $25.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-185763-8

For his latest novel, the acclaimed author of Cloudsplitter and The Sweet Hereafter again takes inspiration from a sanctuary of sorts. "The Kid," a young sex offender, lives with other registered offenders (including a disgraced state senator) in a makeshift camp beneath a Florida causeway based on a real colony that was shut down in 2010. After a police raid, the Kid meets "the Professor," a pompous, rotund man claiming to be researching homelessness. He wants to study%E2%80%94and cure%E2%80%94the Kid in order to prove his theories about society. But just as the study commences, the Professor, claiming that his life is in danger because of past work as a government spy, turns the tables, paying the Kid to interview him instead. Bloated and remarkably repetitive, this is more a collection of ideas and emblems than a novel. Though the Kid remains mostly opaque, he's a sympathetic character, but the nature of his crime, once revealed, lets Banks off the hook and simplifies rather than complicates matters. Banks continually refers to the Professor's weight and mental superiority, the latter a contrivance allowing for long rhetorical passages into the nature of man, sexual obsession, pornography, truth, and commerce that come as no surprise. Most frustrating is Banks's almost pathological restating of his characters' traits and motives, resulting in a highly frustrating novel in desperate need of an editor. (Sept.)