Lost memory of skin

by Russell Banks

Hardcover, 2011




Ecco Press, 2011.


Fiction. Literature. HTML: The acclaimed author of The Sweet Hereafter and Rule of the Bone returns with a provocative new novel that illuminates the shadowed edges of contemporary American culture with startling and unforgettable results Suspended in a strangely modern-day version of limbo, the young man at the center of Russell Banks's uncompromising and morally complex new novel 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. Enter the Professor, a man who has built his own life on secrets and lies. A university sociologist of enormous size and intellect, he finds in the Kid the perfect subject for his research on homelessness and recidivism among convicted sex offenders. The two men forge a tentative partnership, the Kid remaining wary of the Professor's motives even as he accepts the counsel and financial assistance of the older man. When the camp beneath the causeway is raided by the police, and later, when a hurricane all but destroys the settlement, the Professor tries to help the Kid in practical matters while trying to teach his young charge new ways of looking at, and understanding, what he has done. But when the Professor's past resurfaces and threatens to destroy his carefully constructed world, the balance in the two men's relationship shifts. Suddenly, the Kid must reconsider everything he has come to believe, and choose what course of action to take when faced with a new kind of moral decision. Long one of our most acute and insightful novelists, Russell Banks often examines the indistinct boundaries between our intentions and actions. A mature and masterful work of contemporary fiction from one of our most accomplished storytellers, Lost Memory of Skin unfolds in language both powerful and beautifully lyrical, show-casing Banks at his most compelling, his reckless sense of humor and intense empathy at full bore. The perfect convergence of writer and subject, Lost Memory of Skin probes the zeitgeist of a troubled society where zero tolerance has erased any hope of subtlety and compassionâ??a society where isolating the offender has perhaps created a new kind of victim.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member TooBusyReading
A novel about a convicted, homeless sex offender, the creepy fellow sex offenders who live under a causeway with him, and a professor who treats them like lab rats – how can this book possibly be good? I was a little apprehensive about reading this one because I really don't want to read anything
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explicit about such an awful subject. Fortunately, there wasn't too much detail about the really horrible things that some people do although there were some sexually explicit terms and acts that made me uncomfortable just to read.

The Kid is a registered sex offender, has to wear a GPS anklet at all times and keep it charged, and has almost nowhere to live because he has to stay in the county but has to stay at least 2500 feet away from children, eliminating everywhere except a camp under the causeway, the swamp, and a terminal at the airport. The Professor, an outsider, a pretty odd guy with secrets, befriends the Kid as part of a social experiment.

I really cared about the Kid, could see the world from his viewpoint, and I liked that he tried so hard to take care of his animals, not always successfully. For the most part, I didn't learn much about the other sex offenders except for a nasty politician that I would have rather not known about, but that is because most of the characters don't want to be known. The Professor...what is the truth about him?

This time the Kid doesn't resist. He's remembered that he's an object, a thing, not a human being with a will and a goal, and that he's only capable of reacting, not acting. The Professor's the human being here, not the Kid.

The book book moved along at a good pace and, for the most part, I liked the style of writing. Dialogue in italics instead of quotes took a little interpretation – who was speaking and to whom? As well as being a very entertaining novel, this story is also a social commentary, but the reader must decide for herself what the answers should be.

I was given an advance reader's edition by the publisher so the quote may have changed in the published edition. Thank you to ECCO.
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LibraryThing member SamSattler
With Lost Memory of Skin, Russell Banks has accomplished something I would not have believed possible. Not only has he used a convicted sex offender as the lead character of his new novel, he has managed to make the young man both likable and someone readers can respect and root for as the novel
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This twenty-something, young sex offender, known only as “The Kid,” finds himself living under a Miami Beach bridge as the novel opens. Like all the rest who share this horrible living space with him, the Kid is caught up in an irony of his conviction. His probation terms require that he not leave the county, but he is not allowed to live anywhere within 2500 feet of where children are likely to congregate. Living under the causeway is the only way he and his fellow offenders can meet this term of their probations.

For all his lack of experience, the Kid is a complex character. He knows nothing about his father except for the man’s name, and he was raised by one of the most indifferent mothers imaginable. The Kid, in fact, can be said to have raised himself. His addiction to Internet porn, an addiction he acquired as a young boy, was probably the defining event of his life. That his mother only got upset about her son’s addiction to pornography because he maxed out her credit card, is indicative of the moral guidance he received at home.

When “The Professor,” a hugely obese college professor from a local school, appears on the scene, the Kid’s life begins to change. Suddenly, someone wants to hear what the Kid has to say about his situation and wants to organize things under the causeway in a way that will make life a little easier for those who live there. At first suspicious of the Professor’s motives (even to suspecting the Professor of wanting to molest him), the Kid gradually comes to trust the man. When the Professor is revealed to have problems and peculiarities of his own, things will take an even darker, unexpected twist but the Kid, true to his own moral code, will somehow manage to persevere.

Lost Memory of Skin does not overtly argue that the rest of us should try harder to “understand” what drives sex offenders to commit the horrible crimes they commit. Banks is much subtler than that. His message is more about the “big net” approach to punishment that treats all degrees of sex crime as being pretty much the same. Readers will have to judge for themselves whether or not Banks’s argument is a sound one.

It was only after I heard Banks speak about Lost Memory of Skin at the 2011 Texas Book Festival that I became curious enough to want to read it. Frankly, prior to that event, the idea of reading a rather long novel about convicted sex offenders was not an appealing one. Thankfully, my curiosity won out over my natural aversion to the topic, and I did not miss out on one of the year’s best novels. It was a close call.

Rated at: 5.0
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LibraryThing member LizPhoto
"Lost Memory of Skin" is a novel about a young man named The Kid who lives under a causeway in the Calusa area of Florida (a fictional name for Miami). The kid is forced to live under the bridge because he is a registered sex offender and can't live within 2500 feet of a school or where children
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gather. The kid lives with his iguana, Iggy and other men convicted of being sex offenders.

The Kid may be a young adult at 21 years old but his character is complex, broken and psychologically damaged. He knows nothing of his father and his mother barely acknowledged his existence, so he was left to raise himself. The kid grew up with no friends or hobbies except Internet porn. The kid got busted on a online scheme and was thrown in jail only to be released to the “underworld” as a 21 year old virgin who was discharged from the military and now is a registered sex offender.

After the police raided the camp under the bridge, where The Kid lives he meets a man he calls the Professor, who is very obese and extremely smart. The professor is from the sociology department at Calusa State and wants to interview The Kid about his life and organize the residents under the causeway into a civilized living area with laws, leadership and a permanent toilet. As time goes on The Kid learns to trust the professor but gets caught up in his strange life and deep secrets.

I enjoyed "Lost Memory of Skin" but I felt that the story was not complete. Russell Banks introduces us to some interesting characters but does not go into enough detail about them. I realize it was done to keep some mystery but I feel that it doesn't really work.The fake town of Calusa really bothered me, everyone knows it is Miami. Being from Miami this bothered me a great deal because I could picture the exact places Banks was describing but was not able to connect them due to their idiotic name changes.
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LibraryThing member BillPilgrim
The main character is a 22 year old man who is living under the causeway connecting the fictional city of Calusa with barrier islands. He lives there with a group of other convicted sex offenders who are prohibited from living within 2500 feet of any place where children could congregate. The rule
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makes this underpass one of only three locations in the county where they can legally stay, the other two are at the airport and in a swamp. But it is hardly legal under the highway – early in the book the police arrive in the dark to clear them out, due to health code violations.
After the police raid, the Professor enters the story, who says he wants to study the situation of homeless sex offenders. He takes the Kid under his wing, and tried to help him survive. He says he wants to try to rehabilitate the Kids. But, the professor has his own secrets.
The book is primarily focused on what is real, what is the truth. People lie about themselves, about their past, all the time. For other people, it is often impossible to know what is true.
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LibraryThing member YogiABB
I just finished this book. It is awesome. It is about a young registered sex offender in Florida who due to the Florida residency laws can live in only one place in his county, underneath a causeway. He wears a gps ankle bracelet that lets his parole officer know instantly if he strays into a
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forbidden zone.

Also, thanks to an internet based sex offender registry, given his name anybody can get on the internet and find out his histroy. So for 10 years he is doomed to homelessness and despair and he never actually assaulted anyone. He was lured into what he thought was a liaison with a 14 year old but the girl's father met him at the door. Lucky for the daughter.

The whole thing about sex offenders' residency laws has intrigued me. Sex offenders don't have any advocates so they are free game for any politician looking for a few cheap votes to make it harder to find a place to live. It has gotten to the point where some of the offenders have stopped registering their addresses and go underground which makes it harder to authorities to monitor them.

This book about more than sex offenders though. It is about the difference between shame and guilt, and the nature of belief and reality which is fancy way of asking how do we really know the truth about things. It is also about community and how we deal with outcasts.

The book is also about growing up without parents who care. Take my advice, care about what your kids and grand-kids are looking at online. It matters.

The book is extremely well written and kept me going to the end. I rate it four stars out of five.
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LibraryThing member BALE
In, Lost Memory of Skin, Russell Banks examines the plight of sex offenders; especially those whose offense is a matter of degree. Do we convict a young man (22 yrs) who has never touched another sexually and is a virgin, the same as one who raped a child, or any one? The problem with this sex
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offender is he crossed the fine line between intention and action. Had the father of the 14 year old girl not been at home when the young man showed up, would something have happened? He was certainly armed for action. Law is based upon intentions. By virtue of the contents in his backpack, his intentions seemed self-evident. However, Banks also makes it clear that the young man was one of societies lost souls, with a function-less upbringing, a friendless life, and a person who never even touched another. He was socially inhibited and may never have had the temerity to pull off his intention. The question will go unanswered; yet, the young man will be listed as a sex offender with, a tracking anklet, for ten years.
This brings to light the next logical problem that Banks considers - are we creating a new type of victim by condemning sex offenders to live within a county, yet, a specified distance away from children, schools and playgrounds, in a town or city where kids can be found most anywhere. Many offenders become homeless because there is not any such place, or their public record keep landlords from allowing them into their buildings. Thus, they are left to occupy the underside of a causeway, a swamp, or an airport terminal– places no sane person would consider as a place to live.
I applaud Banks for his worthy pursuit of a serious matter. He makes the reader think and look at the issues involved in a manner maybe never considered. He doesn’t provoke sympathy or antipathy towards any of his hapless characters. However, the delivery of his subject matter lacks literary impact. His writing is dull, i.e., if compared to Richard Russo or any other writer of a similar genre. Some scenes, that would normally be compelling, were weak, unbelievable, and even a bit ridiculous. There is little doubt Russell Banks is a good writer. Unfortunately, this particular novel is not among his greats.
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LibraryThing member St.CroixSue
This was a hard book for me to put down; it grabbed me from the start. The author creates empathy for his protagonist (a sex-offender) and cleverly brings attentions to many of the issues associated with this class of outcasts. There is tension throughout the story with Kidd, the main character,
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with his GPS anklet, having to walk a very fine line. Trust, morality and coming of age in a very provacative tale.
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LibraryThing member lynnytisc
Very insightful book. Subject matter a little off the beaten path, but messages universal.
LibraryThing member revslick
Russell Banks takes a risk as he explores the world of a convicted sex offender. The Kid searches for truth and meaning as he's suddenly forced to confront reality of his situation. Along the way he is mentored by the Professor to help discern his story. There are moments where his characters are
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bland and seem plastic as I wondered if he's ever met an addict of this nature ever in his life. There are also moments where he is spot on with the character's emotions and decisions that it is uncanny. The story has a lot of metaphor and meaning about finding your place in the world wrapped up with a thin coating of mystery leaving the story itself bubbly but also flat.
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LibraryThing member davevanl
A rare book that combines legal ostracism iwith an existential setting. The reader, although (hopefully) not identifying with the main character, can easily develop some empathy with him, despite never even knowing his real name. this book does give rise to a small question which I must google:
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does an electronic ankle transmitter work after being submerged?
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LibraryThing member nmele
This starts out as a very interesting novel, from the point of view of a convicted sex offender who lives under a causeway with other convicted sex offenders. Unfortunately, the novel eventually becomes murky in a melodramatic way which detracted, for me, from some of the insights Banks has his
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protagonist realize. Interesting to read but ultimately unconvincing because of the plot twists.
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LibraryThing member SalemAthenaeum
Acclaimed author Russell Banks give us a novel in which the main character is suspended in a modern limbo. A place where no tolerance has possibly made more victims. A young man now know as his new identity the Kid is shackled into a GPS monitoring device and forbidden to live with in 2,500 feet of
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where children may gather. He takes to the streets and ends up in a camp under a causeway with other convicted sex offenders. Kid meets the Professor who is doing research on homelessness among convicted sex offenders, Kid reluctantly takes his help. It isn't until Professor's own background surfaces that the Kid reconsiders everything he has come to believe and has to choose what action to take.
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LibraryThing member michaelbartley
This is the best Russell Banks novel I've read and I really like his writings. Banks explores a number of issues in a very thoughtful way. I highly recommend it
LibraryThing member dysmonia
A layered, well-written story that demonstrates modern social problems in an appropriately oppressive Florida setting.

This was the first book I read by Russell Banks, and after reading a few of his earlier books I really don't look at this one as being typical. There aren't any extramarital
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affairs going on in upstate New York between these pages...although there is sexual abuse, as a theme.
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LibraryThing member poetontheone
Banks' offers us the perspective of someone that we would usually despise or dismiss outright and gives him his humanity, allowing the reader to watch him evolve as the narrative moves forward. This books says a good deal about our criminal justice system, but even more about how what it means to
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be a human being. It illustrates that humanity is achieved by realizing your mistakes, and by looking past the mistakes of others in hope that there is warmth and compassion to be found. We realize, thankfully, that such is the case for The Kid.
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LibraryThing member edwinbcn
Lost memory of skin by Russell Banks is a novel characterized by ambivalence. The story for this long novel is rooted in reality, focussing on a new type of outcast. It seems the authors wants to draw attention to social injustice, but the message of the novel is unclear because of the weird plot
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The weird plot turns are hard to explain, although the message seems to be that some people can get away with a great deal more than other people. This sense of moral injustice is created through the juxtaposition of the two main characters in the novel, the Kid and the Professor.

The novel describes the hopeless life of a new type of outcasts in American society. This outcast is formed by convicted sex offenders. The inhumane treatment of these people, and the, possibly unforeseen, consequences of the legal ramifications, such as the on-line sex offenders registry, their obligation to wear a GPS anklet and, worst of all, the legal measure which forbids them to live within 2,500 meters of a school, leads to such incredible limitations that they can barely find a spot to dwell in the city. Their lives are effectively destroyed and there is no escape from their predicament. Part of the ambivalence of the novel is that the novel depicts both seemingly very innocent "victims", such as the Kid, along with all other tpes of sex offenders, many of whom seem to be very deliberate, or likely recidivist. Whether or not through circumstance, some are involved in criminal activity, involving even more child abuse, as described in the photo shooting episode in the novel.

Non-Americans will be baffled by the inhuman legal practice in the United States, where tripping up by the police belongs to accepted legal procedure, while the sex offender's registry and other measures lead to medieval and life-long punishment and stigmatization.

The case of the Kid is presented as almost pure-bred innocence; a young man, who made a few stupid mistakes, and was set up and fell into a trap. There is much more to this simple story-line. The novel seems to suggest that, possibly, there are many more young men like the Kid. Their moral values are blurred by the ubiquitous availability of pornography, which in the life of modern teenagers has a very different status than in the lives and minds of older people. In fact, the social life of young people, as compared with that of an earlier generation, has changed to the effect that their "life on line" has replaced the more natural social life, which has led to loneliness, and inability to establish "normal" social contacts. As large parts of their lives take place on lone, so it seems natural that dating takes place on line as well. Essentially, the Kid is a recognizable, very possiblly realistic character. The Kid is quite obviously guilt-ridden. While, even yo himself, he is quite obviously an offender, he is also very much a victim.

The Professor, on the other hand, is a much darker, Falstaffian character. The picture that emerges of the Professor is that he is a highly intelligent person. His exceptionally superior intelligence enables him to conceal much of his life from others, effectively living multi-layered lives. The Professor is also described as hugely obese. This feature suggests that, despite his superior intelligence, his judgement is seriously flawed. His eating disorder is as much as symbol of his moral disorder: he thinks he can get away with anything.

As the "names" or "labels" (always capitalized) of the characters suggest, "the Kid", "the Professor" and "the Wife" are larger-than-life characters. They are caricatures. In the Kid, innocence is blown up and exaggerated. In the Professor cunning and intrigue are exaggerated. In the Wife, understanding and foregiveness, although this element plays only a minor role, towards the end of the novel.

Many of the surprising twists and turns of the plot involve antics of the Professor. The effect of these twists is to make the Professor an even more mysterious character. These plot turns, in all their capriciousness, suggest that even the Professor might conceal what the Kid is so obviously accused of, and that what brings them together, the Professor's interest in people like the Kid, or possibly even specifically the Kid, is a shared common secret. This shared secrecy is played out in the sub-plot of the Treasure Island myth.

Lost memory of skin is a complicated novel. It is a successful novel in as far as it makes readers think about this social problem. The novel also clearly speaks about the overall state of morals in the United States, not only the blurring or moral awareness of younsters, but also the injustice between the socially disadvantaged versus the socially advantaged, and a legal system which is clearly not ready to deal with new norms and a new reality.

Perhaps this is what the title of the novel, Lost memory of skin, hints at. A skin which can no longer adapt to its surrounding, either because it does not have the capacity to emulate the new colour for a new environment or has exhausted adaptiveness.

Finally, the Kid's pet, an iguana, is a freak. A freak of an animal that scares people. Perhaps it is also a reference to that other American novel that describes outcasts on the fringes of American society; Vollmann's The Rainbow Stories.
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LibraryThing member mlake
Not sure about this one, looks interesting but grim.
LibraryThing member klburnside
I don't ever remember finishing a book, putting it down, and saying aloud, "Well, that was a stupid book." Until now. The book had potential. It is about a young sex offender who is on probation and living under a bridge because he isn’t allowed to live within so many miles of day cares, schools,
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etc. He can’t leave the county, so under this bridge is the only place he can live. Then along comes this professor who is allegedly studying the connection between convicted sex offenders and homelessness. The form a friendship of sorts, but the character of the professor is just not very well developed and I just didn't get it.

The book had potential to make powerful statements about the complicated nature of pedophilia and other sex offenses, and it seemed like maybe it was going to get there, but it never really did.
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LibraryThing member Schlyne
I feel like more people should read this sort of thing, just to open their eyes on the gaps in society, and some of the problems out there. For example, teenage sex offenders really shouldn't be labeled...20 with a 17 year old, I'm talking that sort of thing.

However, I lost interest in the main
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character early in the book, and that is never a good thing.
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LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
The plot of Banks's latest novel is such that one could be excused for avoiding it. However, Banks is such a skillful writer, who creates characters one can care about and plots that are thought-provoking, that I recommend you give this one a try.

Stated simply, it's a book about convicted sex
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offenders living under a highway overpass. More particularly, it's the story of the Kid, one of those offenders, who has led a hard-scrabble life and who is a 22 year old virgin. The dilemma for these sex offenders is that they are forbidden to live within 2500 feet of any place children might gather. For this particular county the only places that qualify are the airport, a swamp on the edge of town, and the underpass.

A "cosmetic" police raid scatters the inhabitants for a short while, but as they begin to reassemble under the causeway, an enigmatic character, the Professor, begins visiting. He is a professor, a putative genius, and purports to be studying the problems of sex offenders and homelessness. He focuses on the Kid, and seeks the Kid's trust with financial and practical assistance. The Professor has a mysterious past, is grossly obese, and conceals a host of peculiarities. The relationship between the Professor and the Kid is the integral part of most of the book. Things come to a head when a hurricane disperses the underpass residents once again.

The book succeeds as a character study of two troubled individuals. It also raises issues about the treatment of sex offenders, and whether there should be degrees of punishment. Despite its subject matter, I have no problem recommending it. If you've read any of Banks's other superb novels, you know why.
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LibraryThing member JosephKing6602
Thoroughly enjoyable read even though the theme was quite dark/unpleasant. Liked the characterization of the down-and-out people in the storyline
LibraryThing member gayla.bassham
There is a lot to like about this book, despite its slow start. The Kid and the Professor are both tremendously well-realized, and there is some really beautiful writing (as one would expect of Russell Banks). But the reason I gave it five stars is that I will be thinking about this book for a long
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time. It's gritty, and hard to read in places, but it is well worth it.
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LibraryThing member nikon
A neat story using people and topics that intertwine overlap and combine together to take you right through to the end complete with a twist and a turn you half expect but then another one you don't and then you do. The only down side to the writing and its ever so slight, is that sometimes he
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takes you on a long winded route just to get you to the next point of interest in the story - if only happens a few times but other than that a good read
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LibraryThing member LynnB
The Kid is a twenty-one year old virgin. He doesn't know anything about his father. His mother, who loves him, is too wrapped up in her own life and series of boyfriends to pay much attention to him. He becomes addicted to online porn, falls into a trap, is arrested and becomes a convicted sex
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offender. Upon his release from prison, he must wear an ankle monitoring device for ten years and cannot live within 2500 feet of a school, playground or place children may cluster. He also can't leave the county. So, that means living in an airport hangar, a swamp or under a bridge near the highway. He will be on the Sex Offenders Registry for life.

In this book, Russell Banks forces us to look at the way we treat sex offenders, without expecting us to sympathize with them. He shows that ongoing restrictions can impair an offender's ability to rehabilitate by curtailing housing and employment opportunities. He shows that an ex-politician convicted of having sex with children is treated the same was as a young man trying to have consensual sex with a teenaged girl seven years his junior.

In the novel, the Kid is befriended by the Professor -- a genius who is studying the link between homelessness and sex offenders. But what is the Professor really after? It seems he may have motives beyond his stated one. He and the Kid become more and more involved in each other's lives. And, through the character of the Professor, we start to question what is true about not only him, but about human nature.

Excellent writing and deep, complex character development. I loved this one.
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