Lost Memory of Skin

“If Russell Banks hadn’t become a writer, he thinks he would have wound up stabbed to death in a barroom brawl. He is the son of a two-fisted, drunken New England plumber, and the grief of fatherly combat resonates through his work like the background radiation of the big bang.” –Amazon

Visceral.  Lost Memory of Skin evoked a visceral response.  On more than one occasion, the act of reading it left me downright queasy, stomach tied in knots.  Mr. Banks has penned a brutal bare knuckled novel that punched my buttons, left me prose drunk and reeling.  It’s a literary left hook to the conscience, and certainly unsuitable for the faint of heart.  Dark matter indeed.  By turns vile and sublime, I often found myself watching the clock at work, desperate for the day’s toil to be done, so that I could go home and read some more.  I could not get enough.  I am not ashamed to admit that on more than one occasion I lied to friends and lovers in order to climb back in the ring with this one.  I hung with it to the final bell, and all I can say is, Russell, you beat me up, but I feel you, I really do.

Wannabe.  As a wannabe writer, written works often strike me as akin to puzzles or conjuring tricks. Just how is it done?   In fact, I often enjoy deconstructing texts as much or more than reading them.  The hope being that, by studying examples in particular, I’ll acquire a deeper understanding of writing in general.  Just how are these cerebral synergies put together?  In any case, my interaction with the Crandall Public Library Monday Evening Book Group is most certainly the frosting on this cognitive cake.

Theory.  Heading into our June 20, 2013 discussion I had all sorts of theories about Mr. Banks purpose, and how he meant to drive it home.  The novel revolves around pedophilia, and endeavors to tease out a more nuanced understanding of the issue in terms of cause, effects, and consequences.  This is adroitly accomplished via perspective, as the reader becomes acquainted with the perverse players populating this unsettling narrative, and to a lesser degree, the clever use of literary artifice.

Rattled.  If passion is indicative, the Monday Evening Book Group was most definitely rattled when it gathered on June 20, 2013.  Mr. Banks certainly knows how to stir the pot, and the comments and questions bubbled-up and boiled over.  Somebody called the work ugly.  I agree, but in light of the subject matter, there’s no way to paint it pretty and believable.  Another member faulted Mr. Bank’s fictional construct for its lack of empathy for the real victims of pedophilia; for its attempt to construe the Kid as a character worthy of our sympathy.  Although these criticisms are valid to a degree, I can’t help think that they are tantamount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  

Art.  Mr. Banks obviously means to provoke a rational examination of an issue that is often denied due deliberation, and therefore, he has no qualms in forcing the reader to suffer for his art.  Novelist Norman Mailer is speaking of just this sort of thing, when he professes that:

“The final purpose of art is to intensify, even, if necessary, to exacerbate, the moral consciousness of people.”

Knockout.  By this standard, and given the group’s reaction, it seems safe to call Lost Memory of Skin a narrative knockout.  One can only hope that our next meet-up is nearly as powerful.  It’s scheduled for July 15, 2013, and will feature Dorothy Wickenden’s Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West.  I look forward to seeing you there.


More Russell Banks

Rule of the Bone


The Reserve

The Sweet Hereafter

The Darling

Continental Drift


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1 Comment

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One response to “Lost Memory of Skin

  1. Phyllis Miyauchi

    I agree with you. After how it affected me, I wanted the group to work through this themselves. This is powerful fiction which is what I prefer.

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