Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma

“As early as he can remember, the hopelessly unreliable- yet hopelessly earnest- narrator of this remarkable debut novel has wanted to become a writer.

From the jazz clubs of Manhattan to the villages of Sri Lanka, Kristopher Jansma’s irresistible narrator will be inspired and haunted by the success of this greatest friend and rival in writing, the eccentric and brilliantly talented Julian McGann, and endlessly enamored with Julian’s enchanting friend Evelyn, the green-eyed girl who got away. After the trio has a disastrous falling-out, desperate to tell the truth in his writing and to figure out who he really is, Jansma’s narrator finds himself caught in a never-ending web of lies.”

I got this book in the mail a few days ago and tossed it on my bed. Later, after a housewarming party, I came in and started reading it. Even though it was late and I was kind of drunk, it wrapped me up right away.  Immediately engaging, it begins with the narrator describing how he lost a manuscript- the first of many- in the airport terminal where his mother left him while she worked as a flight attendant. It follows his high school days working in a museum café, his meeting with Julian and Evelyn and his travels all over the world. Pieces of his own fiction crop up here and there, perfect complements to the truth but often indiscernible from it.

Writers and artists will especially like this book for a couple reasons. First, for the fantasy it presents as the lives of career writers who spend their time drinking Zubrowka vodka, going to Iceland, and quoting Hemingway at each other. Second because I think we can all identify with the jealousy of a friend with more talent. 

It’s a deceptively fast read with clean prose that hides a lot of insightful ideas and I felt a bit of a different  person after I finished it. I was reading about the narrator in Manhattan, Dubai, and Luxembourg, and I was thinking about how much I wanted to be in those places too, how I'd finally do interesting things and meet exciting people if I could only go to other places. Then there's a scene at the Grand Canyon and the narrator says out of all the wonders of the world, this is the only one that lives up to the hype. I only live a few hours from the Grand Canyon and I've never seen it. I live right next to other beautiful places I ignore and I live in a huge city full of people who are as interesting as people anywhere, but I don't even try to find them, I just keep waiting until I can go to France or whatever, which I'm not even sure I can ever do. So I booked a weekend trip to Sedona because I've never been there either and I'm bringing this book with me to read again. I don't know if this is a permanent change or just me feeling restless from reading so much about other places, but either way, I'm looking at my life in a new light and I think that's one of the most incredible things a book can do.

The Unchangeable Spots of the Leopard is Jansma's debut novel.

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