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.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas