Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma: Read This If


Kristopher Jansma's debut novel, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, is anything but unchangeable. The chameleonic narrator is about as unreliable and changeable as they come, or, at least, that's what he'd have you believe. He insists that he is a liar, a teller of tall tales, and someone other than himself. He'll never tell you his *real* name (or will he), or the names of his trio of friends - which keep changing from one chapter or story within a story to the next. He seemingly seamlessly (say that ten times fast) slides in and out of various characters, from student to writer to journalism professor to plagiarizer for hire to editor, but always he is a writer, or he would be if only he could write something he recognizes as real, and good, and true. Although, he does believe there is an art to - and a hunger for - lying:
The truth is that I actually have the greatest respect for those fantastic liars. Someday I'd like to teach a class entirely about them. "Late Great American Fakes." My humble thesis will be that America no longer desires truth, only the reasonable facsimile thereof. Like battered lovers, we're willing to settle. Our sense of values still holds us to dismiss that which we know, outright, to be blatant lies, but we avoid the truth with equal intensity. We wish to remain in the gray interregnum of half believe, when at all possible. 
Of course, as he later admits, most of his lying is really to himself, and he wonders how much he can change, and how much he has changed, if at all. He muses about such capabilities when he comes across the son of his former lover, his to-date lifelong obsession. The boy is the same age as the narrator when he wrote - and lost - his first book.
Someday he'll see that he can't have one without the other. He can't know he is the same unless everything around him has changed. It's like black spots on black fur - you can't see them, but they're there, all the same.  
He'll think he's moving in zigzags, getting anywhere but where he meant to go. But there are edges to the board, and someday he will reach one, and it is only then that life will place a true crown onto his head. It's only then that he'll be able to turn around and see for the first time a glorious path back from where he came. 
The leopard and chess motifs pepper the novel, and this quote nicely brings them all together.

I'd definitely recommend reading this if:
  • You enjoy contemporary novels that play with form. 
  • You don't mind it when your narrators might be lying to you. 
  • You covet explorations of the hazy lines between perception, truth, fiction, and lies. 
  • Your current theme song could be "You Can't Always Get What You Want." 
Don't read this if: 
  • You are easily confused and believe everything the media tells you.
  • You like your plots and characters to be pretty straight-forward. 
  • You don't like novels that make you think about stuff.
  • You love How I Met Your Mother and hate Mad Men.

A little fun bit from Viking Penguin: pictures and metions of the book in instagram, twitter and the like with the hashtag #leopardspotting. It's silly book fun! My editions:



You can see Mr. Jansma's own instagram here.

*I received this book in exchange for my honest review from NetGalley courtesy of Viking Penguin.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Nothing But Flowers

"Botanical Garden" by Lori Nix

Last week I mentioned my ever growing dystoparanoid tendencies  and posted a lovely picture of a dilapidated library diorama by Lori Nix. The above, from the same gallery of photographs, was another of my favorites, one that easily brings to mind the Talking Heads song "Nothing But Flowers" (embedded below for your listening pleasure).

For the record, dear totalitarian overlords of the near future, I'm mostly okay with the sort of dystopia (utopia? eye of the beholder, I'm sure) lamented in the song, though winter probably would  beg me to differ, unless I turned out to have some sort of mad tepee-iglooing skills (unlikely). And as long as there are still books and stuff. (Also sounds unlikely.) Never mind then. As you were.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight: Read this if


Well, that was something of an unputdownable. Reconstructing Amelia's premise may be one you'd want to keep at arm's length (busy, successful attorney mom whose teenage daughter takes a deadly fall off the roof of her fancy private school under mysterious circumstances), but once you start reading Kimberly McCreight's debut novel (but not her first!), you might not be able to do much else until you finish.

Kate Baron is your typical (but not stereotypical) high-powered, workaholic single mom, trying to juggle job responsibilities with parenting Amelia, an athletic, nerdy teenager not so popular with the cool kids. Because of her mom's job, Amelia is left to fend for herself much of the time, and Kate, like most parents, feels incredibly guilty about the time she doesn't have for her daughter and has very little idea of the crazy turn Amelia's life takes at the beginning of her sophomore year. Both Amelia and Kate come across as very real, both fully fleshed out and completely believable - people you'd probably want to know in real life. Well, if you're me, anyway.

Also, just because Amelia dies at the beginning does not mean we don't get to know her - the narrative mostly jumps between Amelia's first-person experience in the immediate past and Kate's third-person impressions of the present, all set in motion by an anonymous text to Kate: she didn't jump. The bullying Amelia suffers is absolutely heart-wrenching, making me beyond glad that texting and facebook and the internet weren't around when I was in high school - with so many tools at their disposal, kids have too many more means to a vicious end - it's just horrifying, and this book really brings that new avenue for teenage humiliation to life. The novel manages to cover all the confusion that goes along with being a teenager and discovering who you are and who you want to be as well as all the inner conflicts of trying to be everything as a parent and knowing you're just setting yourself up to fail, complete with Gossip Girl like setting. But it's not without hope, or redemption.

You should definitely read this if:
  • You're looking for a fast, gripping, unputdownable novel.
  • You can follow novels that jump around on a timeline.
  • You're a recovering bully.
  • You've been wondering what would happen on a darker version of The Gilmore Girls.
  • You want to see how a novel could seamlessly combine a mystery with the intricacies of female relationships with one another, with a little law firm & private school politics thrown in. 

Don't read this if: 
  • You're a very recent bullying victim.
  • Anything that discusses sex or sexuality makes you queasy.
  • You find minor mistakes in timelines hopelessly distracting (--> I read an uncorrected proof, and am hoping that has been resolved in the final edition or that I just read something wrong). 
  • You prefer to remain blissfully ignorant of what your teenager is doing. 
  • You don't like starting at the end and working your way backwards (sort of). 

*I received this book through of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review. I'm not the last word - see what others had to say.

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