I just finished the Lost Memory of Skin, by Russell Banks. I hadn’t read anything by him before, but the reviews intrigued me. He is an excellent writer and this is a totally unsentimental, well researched, yet totally fabricated story, drenched with metaphorical, moral, and philosophical conundrums.
Foremost is the story, or maybe it’s the setting—a causeway under a highway in a fictional—but totally familiar—set of keys built up out of swampland off the west coast of Florida. This is the only place that meets the legal requirements that sex-offenders must remain 2500 square feet from any school or playground or other place where children may be located. Banks reminds us that this represents a 9.25-million-square-foot forbidden circle, that overlaps with multiple similar circles, creating a zone of banishment for a community of men who’ve served time for their sex-offending crime, but will remain on the National Sex Offenders registry, banished forever from any chance of having a normal life. It’s certainly surreal.
The main character–called “the Kid” is certainly just that, a very shy, naive and unthreatening 22-year-old. Neglected by his mom, he becomes lost in a world of internet porn, and when he ventures out to meet a teenager whom he met on-line, he finds himself in a sting and arrested for soliciting a minor. Not unbelievably in this story, he never has had, nor does he have, any sexual contact with another human.
The pages address very interesting questions: the difference between guilt and shame, for example; and a nifty perspective on banishment, right out of Genesis (banishment from the Garden) and Leviticus (the legal view of lepers by the community).
I won’t spoil the story for you, but I do recommend this book for its courageous and unsentimental look at the criminal justice system, the way social norms twist to create sex offenders, and the overly simplified social view that labels and abandons these guilty, but still human, characters.