Russell Banks’s latest novel follows a character simply known as the Kid, a sex offender living under a causeway in Calusa, Florida. It’s immediately made clear that the Kid is not a dangerous, to-catch-a-predator type of offender… in fact, it’s revealed he’s a virgin. Even before his arrest, he’s depicted as an outsider and a simpleton- the sort of poor schmo only the most cold-hearted reader could fail to feel sorry for. The other main character is another outsider known as the Professor, an eccentric, obese genius who happens to be studying homeless sex offenders. The dialogue between these two is brilliant- I found them both highly endearing and, at times, very funny. There are all sorts of weird, wonderful bits written into their story: the swamp, the conspiracy, their interactions with other characters. I hate writing, ‘I laughed! I cried!’ but it’s true- I laughed at some of the Kid’s irreverence and I blubbered up when the police raided the camp. The ending is not a particularly happy one but I found it strangely hopeful.
Calusa is fictional but it is based on Miami where the Julia Tuttle Causeway became an infamous sex offender encampment. Offenders on parole had to choose a place of residence 2,500 feet away from schools and parks which forced them under the causeway. Lost Memory of Skin is thoughtfully written and really struck a chord with me because one of my family members is a sex offender (sorry, I know that’s a little TMI for a public diary). It’s a sore subject for my family and something I’m still struggling to understand. The person I’m referring to is not as innocent as the Kid but he’s also not a sociopath ‘chomo’ like some of the other Calusa characters. Obviously, I don’t condone any convict’s wrongdoings but I wish these distinctions were made more often.
Here’s a sneaky photo I snapped of the author answering questions at my library. A cool teacher introduced me to Russell Banks when I was 14. They recommended Rule of the Bone which I literally lost sleep on, staying up all night to finish. It’s one of the first contemporary books I read and loved. Banks remains one of my favorite living writers and I will always look forward to his future work.