That's a key component of "Lost Memory of Skin," which can't help but touch on issues that are discomforting, even taboo. "I knew I was entering material most people rarely speak about," Banks says, "and when they do, they speak about it in absolute terms. But you can't do that if you're writing a novel. You have to be forgiving and compassionate and look for shades of gray."
The book was inspired, in part, by news coverage of an encampment of registered sex offenders living under Miami's Tuttle Causeway and also by Banks' experience, a few years earlier, as a jury foreman in upstate New York.
"The trial," he recalls, "involved a guy accused by his 10-year-old daughter and her friend of having exposed himself to them and fondled them. It was the first time I ever had to confront this reality in a personal way. The guy was clearly guilty. But he was basically a confused, stupid alcoholic, and it was so easy to imagine this poor stumblebum, in a cloud most of the time, in a world that has been eroticized to such a degree, sitting there and he's sexually inadequate with his wife, and he's a loser, he's out of work, he has no sense of any power in the world whatsoever, so this beast in him starts to arise."
What Banks is getting at is the democratic impulse of the novel, the way "it breaks down the barrier between the self and the other, which is the basis for democracy, the basis for humane society." That's a broad claim for the power, or the role, of fiction, but it's one that Banks' career has borne out. From the beginning, he has been concerned not just with character but also with the intersection of character and society, the question of how circumstance helps shape identity.
This is the situation with the Kid, who comes out of "Lost Memory of Skin" if not redeemed then a bit more self-aware, conscious of his choices if not quite his desires.
"It's epistemological," Banks says — of both this novel and the novel in general. "It tries to deal with one key question: How do we know what we know? Basically, it's trying to validate the subjective experience of an individual. That's why it's the most democratic form in literature, because it raises up to the level of significance the subjective experience of an ordinary human being."