What an evocative and enigmatic title Lost Memory of Skin is. It may have been what drew me to the book originally, before I knew what it was about, along with wanting to read another novel by Russell Banks, a writer I admire tremendously. Lost Memory turns out to be an ambitious, thoughtful, morally complex and deeply compassionate novel, and while it doesn’t always succeed, it’s an amazing accomplishment. I’m glad I read it, even though it was painful.
It has one of the most fascinating and poignant characterizations I’ve read. The Kid, a twenty-two year old convicted sex offender who has never kissed a girl, is seared in my memory.
The Kid is one of those invisible, lost souls who has nothing going for him. He’s shorter and skinnier than most young men, looks younger than he’s supposed to, lacks education and is totally adrift–the kind of guy other people ignore. He’s makes foolish and bad choices out of ignorance, innocence, addiction (to porn) and perhaps the deepest loneliness a human can endure. He’s addicted to watching pornography and masturbating because those are the only times he feels real. “The rest of the time he felt as if he were his own ghost—not quite dead but not alive either. A dust bunny shaped like a person.” I found Banks’ portrait of him layered, credible and humane.
The descriptions of his childhood are particularly poignant. It would be too simplistic to label him “neglected,” though he certainly was. The Kid was raised by a woman who “needs men to want her but she doesn’t want men to need her. In fact she doesn’t want anyone to need her—not even the Kid although she does not know that and would deny it if asked. She believes that she loves her son and has done everything for him that a single parent could and has sacrificed much of her youth for him and therefore cannot be blamed for the way he’s turned out.” Continue reading “Russell Banks’ Lost Memory of Skin”