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Rage Is Back: A Novel Hardcover – January 10, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, January 2013: In a show of literary multidexterity, the author of the best-selling faux children's book Go the F**k to Sleep has written a sassy, snarky homage to '80s-era graffiti artists and the city that was their canvas. Mansbach wields a jazzy, poetic voice (often in the second person, but it somehow works) in a druggy haze of a story full of heart and soul. Billy Rage is an infamous graffiti artist who's returned to New York--and the son he abandoned--16 years after the murder of a fellow artist at the hands of city police. At times I wondered if I was feeling sentimental for my New York days, but the deeper I read, the more I realized Mansbach might be something of a mad genius, a potty-mouthed poet with madcap Vonnegut-like qualities and a unique sense of metaphor: a dastardly laugh sounds "like a kid falling down a flight of stairs"; a sob jumps from a woman's mouth "like the first dude to leap from the North Tower." Fresh, fast-paced, and funny, this is a story New Yorkers will love and others will appreciate for the rap-style dialogue and patois of the urban artist. --Neal Thompson

Ten More Books for Readers of Rage is Back

One thing I love about writing novels is that each project is surrounded by a discrete set of sources, influences, and inspirations. Rage is Back is a story about a decimated graffiti crew of the '80s staging an epic comeback in 2005 to take down a dirty cop who's now running for mayor; it's also got crazy rainforest drugs, minor incidents of time travel, a large cast of eccentrics, and a son's reckoning with the father he's never known. There are a lot of worlds to juggle, and the books that helped me do it are just as diverse. Here are ten worth diving into.

Rule of the Bone, Russell Banks
Rage is Back rests solely on the voice of its wisecracking, digressive, and hopefully charming narrator, eighteen-year-old Dondi Vance--it's up to him to take the reader on a wild ride, and sell him on some stuff that challenges reality as we know it. In Rule of the Bone, Banks attempts a similar gambit with The Bone, a gutterpunk from upstate New York who ends up reinventing himself in Jamaica. The fact that it works, brilliantly, gave me the confidence to throw my lot in with Dondi.

2666, Roberto Bolaño
In this none hundred page masterpiece, written as he was dying, Bolaño breaks every rule of fiction imaginable: narratives fracture and double back on themselves, plot lines dissolve just as they're screaming toward resolution, new characters are introduced two pages from the book's end. Through the totalizing, frenzied power of his vision, Bolaño imbues 2666 with a terrifying, beautiful, sometimes hilarious logic all its own. Reading it is exhausting--in the best possible way.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe
I first read Wolfe's lyrical nonfiction account of the 1960s adventures of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters when I was in high school, and I go back to it every few years. No one has ever done a better job writing about hallucinogens--gotten inside the drug experience--better than Wolfe; the fact that he did it by osmosis rather than consumption makes this book all the more impressive. He balances verbal acrobatics with precise control, and that's not easy.

The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City, Jennifer Toth
A fascinating account of the hundreds of people who make their homes underground--some of them in elaborate, highly structured communities, others isolated in bunker-like warrens. Highly readable, deeply thoughtful, and very helpful for me, since the Mole People and the tunnels figure heavily in Rage is Back.

Subway Art, Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper
The game-changing classic text of subway graffiti, first published in 1984. Along with the documentary Style Wars, these photographs helped to spread the movement worldwide, and canonize the styles evolving daily on the mobile steel canvases of New York City. Henry and Martha's photos gave writers the chance to study pieces in depth--as opposed to catching fleeting glimpses as the trains pulled into stations or rumbled across elevated tracks--thus contributing directly to the further evolution of style.

Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
I wanted Rage is Back to be an adventure story, first and foremost: exhilarating and unpredictable, like the books I read as a kid. But Treasure Island is here for a specific reason: the chapter where Jim hands off narrative duties to Captain Smollett, to tell a part of the story for which Jim wasn't present. I remember being struck by that, even as a kid--I'd never seen it before, and it was thrilling and weird. So I did the same thing in Rage, with Dondi passing the baton to Cloud 9 for one rollicking chapter.

The Fortress of Solitude, Jonathan Lethem
Lethem weaves one magical element into this otherwise realistic, gritty, NYC-based book with confidence and understatement. My approach to the supernatural isn't quite the same as his--my characters spend a lot of time disbelieving and debating--but I admire the way he does it; this book made me think hard about what contemporary American "magic realism" (a terms I know Lethem hates, and I'm hesitant to use as well) looks like. Also, Jonathan's brother Blake, a.k.a. KEO, did the lettering on the cover of Rage is Back; he's a font of knowledge with a knowledge of fonts.

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, Jeff Chang
Nobody has done as thorough a job of painting the big-picture political history of hip-hop as my man Jeff: he frames the movement's developing aesthetics in the context of policy and poverty, post-industrialization and immigration. He narrates the tensions between youth and authority, art and commerce, neglect and confinement, with journalistic precision and scholarly vision.

Graffiti Kings, Jack Stewart
Stewart was an early graff scholar whose masters' thesis on graffiti was filed in 1982, and passed around among writers in its unpublished form for many years thereafter. Finally published a few years ago, it's like a long-awaited prequel to Subway Art, full of photos that document an earlier era, giving light to an older generation of writers. For me, after years of hearing more about these innovators that I'd seen, this was like unearthing a whole new strata in the fossil record.

Clockers, Richard Price
Rage is Back moves between many worlds--from Upper East Side prep schools to Crown Heights drug dens--and Price is a master of that kind of expansive fluidity. People always praise the versimillitude of his dialogue, but it's the level on which Price understands and empathizes with his characters that lets him put those choice words in their mouths.

From Publishers Weekly

In this slick, outlandish novel by bestselling author Mansbach (Go the F**k to Sleep), 18-year-old biracial Kilroy Dondi Vance, a lightskinned cat, is expelled from a New York City private academy for peddling hydroponic marijuana. Sixteen years earlier, in 1989, Dondi's white father, Billy Rage, a popular graffiti artist, had a violent encounter with NYPD's Vandal Squad, led by Anastacio Bracken, who caught Billy and others spray-painting in the subway and, during the pursuit, gunned down his friend Amuse. After Bracken covered up Amuse's murder, Billy went on the sickest run, spraying graffiti accusing Bracken of killing Amuse all over the city, with Dondi's African-American mom Karen, herself a graffiti artist, hoping Billy would stop and grieve. After Bracken was appointed the MTA's chief of security, he declared war on the sociopath Billy, who fled to Mexico. Now, in 2005, Dondi finds Billy back in town in bad shape after a suicide attempt and years spent in the Amazon becoming a shaman, with the help of numerous psychedelic drugs. Bracken is more powerful than ever, and a mayoral candidate, and Billy resolves to bring him down via a new graffiti campaign. Though Dondi's voice, a combination of sophistication and raw urban slang, feels at time forced, Mansbach's novel is a fun and exciting read. Agent: Richard Abate, 3 Arts Entertainment. (Jan.)

Burning Down George Orwell's House
Burning Down George Orwell's House
Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award finalist Robert Stone describes Burning Down George Orwell's House as a "… most enjoyable, a witty, original turn … one part black comedy and one part a meditation on modern life. It is well-written and truly original." Learn more about the author, Andrew Ervin

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (January 10, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670026123
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670026128
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,069,509 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Adam Mansbach's new novel, Rage is Back (Viking) has been named an Amazon.com Best Book of the Month for January 2013, and a Barnes & Noble Best Book. The Washington Post says "Mansbach has clearly had a play date with Michael Chabon and Junot Diaz, and his fresh, witty novel is one that hip readers will relish," and adds that "There's no resisting [narrator] Dondi, 'a nerd with swagger,' as he riffs on everything from Madison Avenue to yuppies' racial anxiety ," and the San Francisco Chronicle writes that "Rage Is Back does for graffiti what Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay did for comic books. Dondi mashes up disparate linguistic registers with an effortlessness that brings to mind Junot Díaz's perennial narrator, Junior. The ideal interpreter for this journey, he is equally comfortable holding forth on the history of graffiti style, explaining the "tripartite drug economy" of Fort Greene or (like many a smart high school student), bringing it all back to Homer, Plato and The Great Gatsby. ...but beneath all the weed and spray paint, it's a warmhearted story about a son searching for his father and for himself, a trip through the past and present of an American art form that fits surprisingly well within the confines of the novel."

Mansbach's previous book, Go the F*ck to Sleep is a #1 New York Times bestseller, and one of the most talked-about books of the decade. A viral sensation that shot to #1 on Amazon.com months before the book was even available, it has been published in forty languages, and is forthcoming as a feature film from Fox 2000. Mansbach also wrote"Wake the F*ck Up," a pro-Obama video starring Samuel L. Jackson that has been described by many as the greatest political ad of all time. Released online on September 27, 2012, it received 5 million views in its first week.

Mansbach's 2008 novel, The End of the Jews, won the California Book Award and was long-listed for the IMPAC-Dublin Prize. His previous novel, Angry Black White Boy, or The Miscegenation of Macon Detornay, was a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2005; it is taught at more than eighty universities and has been adapted into a prize-winning stage play. He is also the author of the novel Shackling Water, the poetry collection genius b-boy cynics getting weeded in the garden of delights, the graphic novel Nature of the Beast (co-written with Douglas Mcgowan).

An inaugural recipient of the Ford Foundation's Future Aesthetics Artist Grant, Mansbach was also a 2012 Sundance Institute Screenwriting Lab fellow and the recipient of the Indian Paintbrush/Sundance Institute Feature Filmwriting Grant. The 2009-2011 New Voices Professor of Fiction at Rutgers University, he founded, edited and published the pioneering 1990s hip hop journal Elementary and spent several years traveling as a drum technician with the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine. His fiction and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, Esquire, The Believer, and on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.

Mansbach's His debut thriller, The Dead Run will be published in September 2013, by HarperCollins. A frequent lecturer on college campuses across the country, Mansbach lives in Berkeley, California, where he co-hosts the KPFA/Pacifica radio show "Father Figures."

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By TChris TOP 100 REVIEWER on January 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover
About a third of Rage Is Back is an excruciatingly irritating mix of ultra-hip cultural references and D-list celebrity name dropping. I was indifferent to another third. The remaining third approaches brilliance. Stray sentences, random thoughts, sometimes entire pages shine like polished platinum.

Kilroy Dondi Vance is a nineteen-year-old mixed race drug dealer. His mother's family is from Trinidad and his father is half-Jewish. Having attended Manhattan's third-most-prestigious prep school on a scholarship, he's now an Angry Young Man whose mother, Karen, has kicked him out of her apartment. Dondi's also something of a graffiti historian. Karen is worried that Dondi is turning into Billy, Dondi's absent father. Back in the day, Billy (a/k/a Rage) and Karen (a/k/a Wren 209) tagged trains together. Before he fled to Mexico, Billy got himself into a mess with a transit cop-turned-demon named Bracken, the man who killed Billy's friend and fellow graffiti writer. When Billy returns to Manhattan sixteen years later, Bracken is running for mayor and Dondi ... well, as you'd expect from an Angry Young Man, Dondi is none too pleased with Billy.

Still, after Dondi gets together with Billy and his old crew of graffiti writers, a plan to take revenge against Bracken takes shape, and therein lies the plot. The writers embark on an Ocean's Eleven scheme, complete with ensemble cast, designed to thwart Bracken's ambition. When the novel stays focused on that scheme, it's fun and lively and supremely entertaining. To the extent that the novel serves as a fictional history of (and tribute to) graffiti writers, it is fascinating.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Frank Logue on September 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Kilroy Dondi Vance tells of growing up the mixed race son of graffiti artists Billy Rage and Wren 209. Rage’s crew celebrate Dondi’s 1987 birth by “bombing” trains in the Coney Island Train Yard. Amuse, one of the Immortal Five crew, ends up shot dead by Transit police captain Anastacio Bracken. Rage goes on a bombing run to paint variations on “Bracken killed Amuse” on anything and everything across the city, including a Central Park polar bear. The others in the crew fall to arrest, prison and an unexplained blindness. Billy Rage disappears into Mexico. This is the back story to the novel and I won’t give any spoilers here. The novel takes place in 2008. Rage is rumored dead. NYC train art is but a memory. Bracken is running for mayor. Then someone starts writing wild new art in subway tunnels. Rumors fly. Word is that Rage is back looking for vengeance.

Rage leaves little room across the love/hate spectrum as it is a stylistically strong novel. Dondi’s first person account includes a running meta narrative, such as reflecting on how other authors have evoked drug trips in their writing before he delves into several pages of a surreal journey courtesy of a strange jungle brew drizzled on a blunt. But this fits the prep school scholarship student as the first person narrator with his literary agency-working mom. Sure the author is winking at the reader, but it works in the context of the story. The book also intriguingly blends supernatural elements. Again, I don’t want to spoil things for the readers who will follow. For me the mix works as Mansbach knows his craft. He is an able guide for a foray into a very different life. The result is something like J.D. Salinger’s Haulden Caufield having Edward Abbey’s Hayduke for a father. As I say, this is a blend that you are likely to love or to loathe with no readers left relaxing on the fence.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Bennett Gavrish on January 10, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
(Note: Viking Press provided me with a copy of Rage Is Back for the purpose of this review.)

Grade: A-

L/C Ratio: 60% Literary / 40% Commercial

Thematic Breakdown:
30% - Graffiti
25% - Family drama
15% - New York City
15% - Humor
10% - Drugs
4% - Race
1% - Sci-Fi

Addictiveness: High
Movie Potential: 1 Thumb Up
Re-readability: Medium

The strength of Adam Mansbach's new novel is its narrator, Dondi Vance. He's half-white, half-black, part drug-dealing gangster, and part preppy schoolboy. But most importantly, he's an entertaining and engaging storyteller. Rage Is Back works so well because Dondi is far enough removed from his father's circle of graffiti artists that he can hold the reader's hand as they dive into a fascinating subculture together.

Mansbach clearly put a ton of research into crafting an authentic tone for the novel. The slang and nicknames used by the characters make Rage Is Back a challenging read at times, but the goals of those characters are never obscure and the central plot is never cloaked.

The random sci-fi tidbits and literary jokes in Rage Is Back take an already innovative story to a new level. And somehow, Mansbach manages to squish an astounding number of characters, themes, and ideas together without ever sacrificing the book's heart.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Richard P. Carpenter on January 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Adam Mansbach has done it again. He's taken a subject I thought I had little interest in -- in this case New York City's graffiti wars of the 1980s -- and spun it into a novel I was reluctant to quit reading. For that you can mostly thank the book's narrator, a kind of hip-hop Holden Caulfield who spices the story with a lot of laugh-out loud lines as he details the rocky return of his father (named Rage in graffiti-speak), who was in hiding for years after a fatal incident involving spray-painting, or "bombing," and an evil transit official now on the rise politically. The man has to be stopped and I'll let the narrator, Kilroy Dondi Vance, tell you how: "This weekend we're gonna bomb every train in the city and force-feed psychedelic drugs to a bunch of security guards, so as to bring down a a mayoral candidate who murked a homeboy of my parents back in the day, although actually a demon might have made him do it." With the help of characters -- and I do mean characters -- with names like Ambassador Dengue Fever, Cloud 9, and Supreme Chemistry, "Rage Is Back" sends you on a wild ride toward the climax, which might require a wee bit of disbelief suspension but is surely fitting. This is Mansbach's best-written book yet, and you can write that on the wall. Better yet, spray-paint it.
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