Banks explores a sociological third rail - the dark side of sexual deviation - in his tale of a convicted sex offender, a twenty-two-year-old young man referred to only as the Kid. His long addiction to porn leads him to a meeting with a fourteen-year-old girl, an illicit encounter to which he arrives bearing alcohol, condoms, and a sexually explicit flick. Unfortunately for the Kid, he is greeted by the girl’s father and the SWAT team, learning quickly the limitations of Florida’s tolerance for sexual predators.
Perhaps more palatable as a sympathetic protagonist for his age, youthful appearance, background and relatively minor offense, the Kid is nevertheless required to wear a GPS monitor. Nine more years of surveillance remain on his parole, constraining him to reside at least 2500 feet from any area frequented by children. With few areas that meet such restrictions in Calusa, Florida, the Kid sets up his tent among other homeless deviants under the Causeway on a strip of land sheltered by an overpass, debris-strewn and peopled by a ragged army of fellow sex offenders of varying degrees.
Enter the Professor, a larger-than-life personality and gargantuan genius with an appetite to rival his IQ. Both arrogant and insatiably curious, the Professor has long existed in a universe of his own design, isolated in his brilliance and narcissism, convinced most sex offenders are a product of environment - particularly in the age of digital pornography, pervasive and readily available. The Professor plans to make the Kid the basis of his research, their collaboration an examination of both enforced lifestyle and the consequences of social ostracism, a seedy ship of fools awash with the detritus of twisted choices and the scraps that form the camps, a loose confederation of society’s “lepers” living below the radar. The Kid is the least offensive of such perverts, though Banks cloaks them all in eccentric personalities and the ragged loyalties of the chronically disenfranchised. (The moral dilemma remains: Would you want these folks living next door?)
Not surprisingly, the Professor is not what he seems, his seamless generosity upended when he rescues the Kid from the threat of Hurricane George, brings him to a home recently abandoned by wife and children and requests that the Kid interview him in turn. Thus unspools the Professor’s account of a compartmentalized life, a masquerade of identities and causes and a potential threat to his life. With the lure of reward, the Kid makes a promise but questions the veracity of everything the Professor has told him in their time together, attempting to sort truth from fiction as he wends his way from despair to survival outside the limitations of his identity as a sex offender.
An interesting subject for a novel, albeit not a comfortable or uplifting one, but then Banks is adept at such awkward juxtapositions. A hierarchy of villains harbor redemptive qualities, rejects snatched from oblivion, a tear sliding down a dispassionate cheek that suggest a not-yet-damned soul. The commerce of pornography and sexual deviance is big business, a great amorphous stain on the public consciousness, but far too lucrative to bear exposure save in the dark crevices where such as the Kid reside. Banks lifts a corner of the tent and lets the demons out.