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
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman as Doctor Who and Clara behind the scenes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cheery but half-baked canine caper: 'Pudsey the dog: The movie'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce leads the MTV VMA Awards 2014 nominations with eight

music
Arts and Entertainment
Live from your living room: Go People perform at a private home in Covent Garden

theatre
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
    Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

    Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

    They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
    The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

    20 best days out for the summer holidays

    From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
    Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

    All the wood’s a stage

    Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
    Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

    Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

    Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
    Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

    Self-preservation society

    Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
    Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

    Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

    We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor