Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fiction: Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks

In a 2003 interview with January Magazine, Russell Banks explained why his characters manage to live and breathe as sharply as they do:
Again, it goes back to: how does the writer view the universe? How do you view human beings? It's the case, I think, that no one is simply one thing or the other -- except for those few beings who are out of their minds, in a literal and ongoing way. But most human beings -- almost all human beings -- are made up of this conflicted mix of good and bad motives, and good and bad deeds, and perception and blindness.
It is this conflicted mix of good and bad that most characterizes the main character in Banks’ latest novel, Lost Memory of Skin.

“The Kid” is 22 and out on probation, having done his time after his involvement with a girl who was underage. Labeled a sex offender, the Kid no longer belongs anywhere and creates a makeshift life with his pet iguana under a South Florida causeway with others who share his brand. When the Kid is befriended by a professor with an interest in homelessness, both men think the older man will be helping the younger. Both are surprised when it turns out to be the other way around.

As in earlier works like Continental Drift and The Sweet Hereafter, in Lost Memory of the Skin, as Margaret Atwood said, Banks “takes us into the dark side of the dark side.” The light never looked so sweet. ◊

Monica Stark is a contributing editor to January Magazine. She currently makes her home on a liveaboard boat somewhere in the North Pacific.

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