Books & Books Coral Gables. Sept 26, 2011. 8:00 p.m.
Long one of our most acute and insightful novelists, Russell Banks often examines the indistinct boundaries between our intentions and actions. With his uncompromising and morally complex new novel, Lost Memory of Skin, the two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist is at the peak of his powers as a writer.
Suspended in a strangely modern-day version of limbo, the young man at the center of the story must create a life for himself in the wake of incarceration. Known in his new identity only as the Kid, and on probation after doing time for a liaison with an underage girl, he is shackled to a GPS monitoring device and forbidden to live within 2,500 feet of anywhere children might gather. With nowhere else to go, the Kid takes up residence under a south Florida causeway, in a makeshift encampment with other convicted sex offenders. Barely beyond childhood himself, the Kid, despite his crime, is in many ways an innocent, trapped by impulses and foolish choices he himself struggles to comprehend.
Like much of Banks’s fiction, Lost Memory of Skin has a basis in reality. As a part-time resident of Miami, Banks was intrigued by a real-life colony of sex offenders that has sprung up beneath the Tuttle Causeway in a no man’s land near the city. “I was struck by the bizarre irony that laws designed to protect children from molesters create new problems of isolation and disenfranchisement,” he says. The seed for the story fell in line with themes he has explored in such contemporary classics as The Sweet Hereafter and Rule of the Bone, including sexual abuse, and the way that our culture treats children as objects and turns them into consumers what he calls “the main unrecognized tragedy of our times.” Tapping into these and other issues, Lost Memory of Skin probes the zeitgeist of a troubled society where zero tolerance has erased any hope of subtlety and compassion society where isolating the offender has perhaps created a new kind of victim.
Russell Banks is a prolific writer of fiction whose many other books include Continental Drift, Cloudsplitter, The Darling, The Reserve, and the short story collection, The Angel on the Roof. The Sweet Hereafter and Affliction have been adapted into feature films. His work has been widely translated and published in Europe and Asia, and has received numerous awards, including the O. Henry and Best American Short Story Awards, The John Dos Passos Award, and the Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, of which he is a member. From 2004-2008 he served as New York State Author. Banks is also founding president of Cities of Refuge North America and the past President of the International Parliament of Writers.
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