Friday, November 4, 2011

A Review of "Lost Memory of Skin" [70]

Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Bank
Knopf Canada, ISBN 978-0307401731
October 4, 2011, 432 pages

This story has two main characters. And it is hard to decide which is more unlikeable.

First, we have the Kid. While emotionally and psychologically he may be retarded in his development and seems in some ways like a child, in actuality he is a young man in his early 20's. He is also addicted to Internet porn and is a convicted, registered sex offender. He has spent hours a day, since the time he actually was a child, on the computer, seemingly with his single mother's knowledge, totally immersed in that sick, nasty world of internet porn. After getting thrown out of basic training in the military, the Kid actually tied to act on his desires and meet up with an underage 14 year old girl to have sex, ended up arrested and in jail.

When we meet him he is out of jail, a registered offender and required to wear a GPS ankle bracelet for 10 years. As a registered sex offender in his south Florida county,  he can not live within 2500 feet of a school or playground or anyplace children may be, which leaves three places to live...the airport, a swamp or under an overpass of the highway into town. He has chosen the last, and live there with his only friend, a giant iguana, in a tent city of sort made up of sex offenders who, even with their amusing nicknames, are an even creepier bunch than the Kid.

It is there that we meet the second character, a man the Kid calls the Professor. The Professor is a brilliant man...he tells us this again and again...and a professor of sociology at the local college...who has decided to do a study of these offenders and the Kid in particular. He believes that he can cure them, ultimately by forming them into some sort of self regulating community.
But the Professor has some issues of his own. He is physically huge, very tall and grossly obese. And in this instance, the word gross seems to fit to perfection, because his relationship with food is truly disturbing and his relationships with people, including his wife, very unusual. Talk about the blind leading the blind.
And then, as we find out in the last part of the book, he claims that from the time he was in college until he got married and became a teacher, he was a spy, a double or triple agent for various government groups and now it seems that he has been found and is considered a danger by some people who may kill him and make it look like a suicide.
Of course, as even the Kid realizes, the Professor may be making the whole thing up.
"Despite what he says, the Kid is a little scared of the Professor. Especially now. The more the fat man reveals what he claims to be the truth about himself the less the Kid knows who or what the fat man is. Other than weird. If he is telling the truth he's the weirdest dude the Kid has even known and if he's lying he still the weirdest dude the kid has ever known."
Amen to that!

So, what are we to make of all of this.
Well, first of all, it is hard to like a book where none of the characters are likable or someone you can identify with. OK, you can almost feel sorry for the friendless Kid...unless you have a 14 daughter maybe. And yes, he is not as totally creepy as some of the others, like the Shyster, an ex-politician with a thing for little, little girls. But this all is told in such a direct, matter of fact way that it keeps it from being quite as horrible as it really is when we thing about it more. It's a book about people, as the author himself says mostly young men, who are totally alienated from real people, addicted to sex on the Internet where the line between reality and fantasy is so blurred as to be gone. And it is a book that questions how we as a society, what the author feels is a broken, fragile society, will deal with these people. The answer seems to be that we can't. We have no way to cure them, to really even treat them effectively and so we just try to keep ourselves safe from them as best we can.
Not a very hopeful answer.

I am not not sure that I can say I 'liked' this book. When you read a review like that of Janet Maslin in the NY Times, which calls it a "major new work...destined to be a canonical novel of our time." you think that you should. And it is certainly a book that I will remember and have spent way too much time thinking about, all to little end. Whether I recommend that you read it is one thing that I thought about and that I never did decide.

My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy of this book.


  1. Sounds like a tough one. Thanks for this thoughtful review.

  2. Yikes. Don't know if I want to read this. Sounds like you need to take a hot shower after it.

  3. I don't think it is as distasteful as it could be, considering the subject, but it is certainly not a cozy, feel good book. No, you will not be feeling good, but you may be thinking.

  4. gave me the creeps just reading your review. As a mother of daughters and a grandaughter, this type of story is revolting to me. There is plenty of better reading out there.


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