Clerkenwell Press, £12.99, 416pp. £11.69 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Lost Memory Of Skin, By Russell Banks

The Causeway connects the Great Barrier Isles on Florida's Gulf coast with the mainland at nondescript Calusa City. Tucked underneath its concrete offramp is a shanty of tarps, tents and shelters lashed together from jetsam to house the specific flotsam of Calusa County, whose state ordinances dictate that sex offenders must not dwell within 2,500 feet of any location where children might congregate.

The colonists show wary respect in the shared need for personal security but, as one of them grunts, homelessness is never a team sport. Russell Banks sketches in a curious cast of misfits from Plato the Greek, whose generator charges everyone's cell phones and GPS monitoring anklets, to a former Senator (caught with sex toys in an airport hotel awaiting children procured via the internet) whose social unease in this underclass is palpable.

From the novel's opening scene, in which a politically-prompted police bust staged in front of smirking reporters smashes through the encampment, Banks focuses on the displaced fragility of the Kid, a drop out convicted of soliciting a minor but more guilty of stupidity than sexual predation. The Kid's passivity is almost pathological. Largely ignored by his hedonistic mother, he grew up with a pet iguana for close family and an excessive early-teenage porn habit. At 22, the Kid has already been "shit-canned" out of the army for distributing porn but has never had a girlfriend or meaningful emotional experience.

Banks cleverly translates the glassy sheen of the Kid's blank, porn-numbed personality onto his narrative, which the Kid navigates with chilling passivity. When a local professor drops by seemingly to further his research into sex offenders and homelessness, the Kid is mildly mistrustful but compliant.

In some respects, Lost Memory of Skin presents two different novels competing for attention, both interesting but somehow not fully formed. The Professor's possibly deceitful interest in the Kid propels Banks's plot through still water but only really catches a current when his own shady past and multiple identities resurface to take a bite (a theme that Banks worked with more vigour in his punchy 2004 novel The Darling). Two-thirds through, the novel picks up some spooky nuances that alter the tone and pace but too often feel stage-managed and unpersuasive. At other points, Lost Memory of Skin feels like it could be more of an inquiry into morals, or the trust and identity issues surrounding homelessness and dysfunction; but its philosophical undertow is never fully fleshed.

Banks explored some of these areas before in his more picaresque 1994 novel Rule of the Bone. The Kid accepts his punishment but never considers his crime wrong, only illegal. Perhaps in keeping with his stunted personality, there's no real evisceration of morality that might add weight to the narrative. More substantial issues are unexplored – how gullibility in the anonymised portal of the internet can result in catastrophic life-changes; or why America appears to pursue a medieval approach of untouchable exile rather than rehabilitation for some criminals.

Banks is a superb prose stylist, as demonstrated by the pin-sharp stories in his 2000 collection The Angel on the Roof, or his tightly-plotted 2008 novel of twisted intimacy, The Reserve. This latest novel is more mixed. It reads well but remains curiously unsatisfying, perhaps because Banks's evident skills at character and plot do not fully flourish here. Neither thriller nor social anatomy, Lost Memory of Skin reprises some of the author's interests in marginal existences without allowing the reader enough purchase on his subject.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week