I’m rudely interrupting your regularly scheduled Cannonball Read to write to you about my absolute favorite novel to come out in years. As some of you know, I work in a bookstore and, by necessity, read a heap ton of books. But, for the most part, I try to keep my day job out of the stuff I write here because the Pajiba tagline isn’t exactly “Book Reviews For B*tchy People.” But, of course, we do have this marvelous daily platform for book lovers and for the first time in over two years, I’ve got a novel that I think is worth elbowing in and crowing about.
The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, Kristopher Jansma’s debut novel, is a story told in layers, Cloud Atlas-style. But unlike the ambitious moralizing tone of David Mitchell’s book, this novel attempts to really tell the story of one man, one writer and his attempt to create something true. Our hero (one of the most unreliable narrators you’ll ever meet) bases his creative process on this quote from Emily Dickinson “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” And it’s our job as readers to dig between the fabrications and embellishments to find what’s honest, what’s real in the narrator’s story.
Now I don’t know about you, but I enjoy the hell out of a book that engages the reader on that level. You’re not some passive bystander but are, instead, urged to actively question, probe and tear down the meat of the story to find the truth in its bones. And Jansma, who is a magnificent writer, is capable of composing sentences of such stunning, crystalline clarity, that you’ll find it’s well worth the dig.
I know I haven’t touched much on plot, but that’s because the actual plot (which takes us from the rural South all the way around the world and back again) isn’t really the draw. What is a draw, what is absolute catnip for avid readers and English majors are the knowing nods to master writers such as Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald or Hunter S. Thompson. The layers of the pastiche at work here are so intricately laid down that the disparate tones don’t jangle. They sing. And if all this has made this book sound pretentious or onerous, the fault is mine. The truth of the matter is, it’s damn fun.
Though it just came out last week, I’ve been pressing advanced copies of The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards into hands for about six months now. On the whole the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. There have been a few, however, who have had a negative reaction to our hero. His selfish, unformed and sometimes cavalier attitude towards life and others doesn’t sit well with every reader. But I’m confident that the author didn’t write this to say, “Look at this fellow, he sure has his sh*t together.” Rather, like most of us, this guy is a bit of a mess. But beautiful messes make the best stories.
I’ll leave you now with a trailer for and an excerpt from the book and you can decide for yourself whether Jansma’s style and my ringing endorsement are enough to convince you to give the book a shot. I’ll also let you know, fellow Pajibans, that Jansma is a huge “Justified” fan and asked me if I would sell “fat stacks” of his book “like Pinkman.” That is to say, folks, he’s one of us.
So. That is the story of how I lost my very first book. I’ve lost three others since—a novel, a novella, and a biography. The first is disintegrating steadily at the bottom of a black lake. The second is in the hands of a woman whom I love and will never see again. The third is in a dusty African landfill, wrapped in the bloody tatters of my tweed coat, my gold watch still in the pocket.
Only fragments remain, which I’ve carried with me around the world and back again. Sitting here in Terminal B, setting them beside one another, I’ve been trying to get them to add up to something true. I’m staring at the margins between them—just an inch on each side—but the distance may as well be the Grand Canyon. Yet I feel certain that somewhere in this empty space, between my lies and fictions, is the truth.
It occurs to me now, as I finish writing this, that perhaps these surviving pieces aren’t so different from those clocks in Terminal A. In each of them you can see what the time would be, but only somewhere else. Between them all, you can, if you wish, determine what time it is here.
If you’re reading The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, you’re more than welcome to find me on Facebook and join the Pajiba book group we’ve started. This review is (sort of) part of the volunteer Cannonball Read V. Read all about it and find more reviews on the group blog. Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.