Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma

Rudyard Kipling’s How the Leopard Got its Spots is one of many pieces of literature that The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards alludes to. Perhaps the most telling allusion is the line from an Emily Dickinson poem – “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant”, since Jansma’s book is a series of slanted tales told by a highly unreliable narrator. The fact that you never really even know this narrator’s name enhances the colorful telling of the chapters that read more like individual interconnected tales than a novel. The narrator makes it clear in the opening chapter that he is a writer, and piques the reader’s interest by announcing “I’ve lost every book I’ve ever written.” His life story – from childhood to adulthood – is told through episodic adventures that take him all over the planet. Europe, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Iceland. For a while, he assumes the identity of Professor Wallace and teaches Methods and Practices of New Journalism in Dubai. This entertaining chapter includes a portion of one of Wallace’s supposed lectures on truth in journalism which announcing that, “Ours is a new generation of plagiarists. Armed with Wikipedia and Google, we can manufacture our own truths”. Throughout the novel he maintains a rivalry with Julian, who is also an author, and a romantic quest for Evelyn, who eventually becomes a princess.

At one point, the narrator muses, “Somewhere, once, I read that the only mind a writer can’t see into is the mind of a better writer.” Jansma is clearly a reader’s writer. The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards is a reader’s theme park of a novel. Holden Caulfield narrating The Princess Bride. Scattered throughout are literary references, doppelgängers and leopard sightings – real and imaginary. I enjoyed this book largely because Jansma fuels my faith in the value of literary fiction.

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