CBR-V Review #14: The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristofer Jansma

Why I Read It: Joanna’s rave review of it on Pajiba got me intrigued.

My Rating: 4 stars

Summary: This is kind of a hard book to summarize, but here goes! We first meet the narrator (who goes by several names over the course of the book) as a young boy in an airport terminal, waiting for his flight attendant mother. We then shift to him as a teenager, where he’s a poor kid in a town full of rich snobs and is hopelessly in love with of them. Next, we find him at college, where he’s a writing student, and where his friendship with Julian, a flamboyant and incredible talented rival writer, and Evelyn, the beautiful actress, begins. It’s these two relationships that are at the center of the novel, although they’re later hidden under the veil of a novel-within-a-novel (and yet another novel within this one). This is a book about writing, more than anything–the process, the act, the emotional journey. 

My Review: I really liked this book. It was incredible innovative in terms of structure and style–it’s disjointed but cohesive at the same time, almost more like a series of short stories than a novel at times. Jansma plays with the reader’s head, making you question what’s real and what’s not, keeping you constantly at arm’s length from the narrator. We never really know who the narrator actually is–we never even know his real name–and it’s almost as though he’s a totally different person in each section of the book. It’s clear that he’s obsessed with reinvention and is struggling to pinpoint a defined identity for himself, and this is one of the novel’s central themes. It’s an interesting tactic–having such an unreliable narrator can be hard to pull off–but it ultimately works well. The theme of a leopard not being able to change its spots is repeated frequently, and is maybe a bit too on-the-nose, but Jansma stops short of hitting you over the head with it.

This reminded me a bit of The Wonder Boys, actually, in that it’s the narrator’s relationship with writing that’s more important than any other physical/emotional relationship in the novel (and in the inclusion of a flamboyant, eccentric best friend). I loved the concept of books within books, which, although a bit confusing at times, ends up being successful at the end. Jansma is clearly super-talented, as this novel spans a wide range of styles and tones and still manages to feel centered and complete. It’s definitely a funny book, with a very tongue-in-cheek voice, but it also has a deep undercurrent of pain and loss. It’s a stunning book, and really unlike anything I’ve ever read. It left me feeling confused and uncertain of what I was supposed to take away from it, but I really enjoyed reading it.

Should You Read It? Yes. It’s well-written, entertaining, and fun to read. And I think Jansma is definitely the Next Big Thing in contemporary literature.

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