- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (February 25, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0143125028
- ISBN-13: 978-0143125020
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 95 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #834,324 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards: A Novel Paperback – February 25, 2014
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"At times, the novel is a string of short stories; at others, it is a set of matroyshka dolls, containing, at one point, a novel within a short story wihthin a novella within a novel. ...Jansma approaches them with wry humor and a steady hand. The narrator's games never fail to entertain, even if he is constantly changing the rules."
--The New Yorker
“[A] tricky picaresque thick with literary allusion from Fitzgerald to Amis…[A] clever, tightly paced novel of ever-upping stakes.”
"Playfully weird...I'd call this book "postmodern," but that makes it sound like it's not as pleasurable to read as it is."—Meg Wolitzer, author of the New York Times bestselling The Interestings on NPR.com
“Though one might recognize bits of Dickens, Fitzgerald or Hemingway, this is simply a good case of stealing from geniuses. It’s a breathless work the celebrates the literary tradition, while making a strong case that its author belongs on the shelf beside his forebears.”
—Time Out New York (5 Stars)
“Couched in Jansma’s wildly recursive funhouse of a novel is a coming-of-age story…filled with clever literary allusions and insider jokes…[T]here’s plenty to relish in this noteworthy debut.”
—Heller McAlpin for NPR.org
“F. Scott Fitzgerald meets Wes Anderson…[T]he novel strikes a cord on questions of authenticity, love, and ambition, and it reminds us that life is often out of our control, even if we’re writing it down.”
—The Village Voice
“One of the best books of the year.”
—Jeff Glor for CBS Author Talk
“[Jansma is] a writer of extreme promise, who seems to belong to an older generation.”
—Electric Literature “Recommended Reading”
“[A] slippery and energetic debut novel…rapid in pace, the language and details tightly controlled…It’s tremendous fun, this book.”
—San Francisco Journal of Books
“[T]his mind-blowing spiral of a book will also appeal to anyone who enjoys their fiction as playful as it is intriguing.”
“The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards’ intricate narrative game and its carbon-burning escapades add up to a novel that is wise about identity and aspiration, competitive storytelling, romantic obsession and the assertion that ‘all these stories are true, only somewhere else.’”
“Captivating…[A] smart, searching debut about art and identity.”
“[A] canny, seductive, and utterly transfixing tale about the magic of storytelling
and the misery of writing…Like a magician pulling a seemingly endless string of colorful scarves from a hat, Jansma streams stories-within-stories-within-stories, each a diabolically clever homage… Readers will detect riffs on Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Truman Capote, Bob Dylan, Tolstoy, Salinger, Borges, Kipling, and many more…A first novel with the strength and agility of a great cat leaping through rings of fire.”
“[An] arresting debut…Jansma’s characters deftly explore the blurred lines between fact and fiction, discovering the shades of truth that lie in between.”
“Absorbing...Jansma [is] a writer to watch.”
—Library Journal (2013 Fiction Preview)
“A terrifically fun book that’s a little bit Calvino, a little bit Jennifer Egan, and a little bit the inside of every young artist that ever was. Concerned with the nature of storytelling, art, fallacy, and f**king up, and told as only a witty wordsmith can, we’re pretty sure it’ll be one of your favorites in the new year.”
—Flavorwire / Named one of their “50 Up-and-Coming New York Culture Makers to Watch in 2013”
“THE UNCHANGEABLE SPOTS OF LEOPARDS is my new exhibit A for the defense of literary fiction. A great read—a must read. Kristopher Jansma is more than the real-deal. He's made himself, with this book, essential.”
—Darin Strauss, author of More Than It Hurts You
“Light and airy, THE UNCHANGEABLE SPOTS OF LEOPARDS is a funhouse of a novel about the outsized ambitions of authors and the sneaky power of storytelling. Kristopher Jansma's debut is a whimsical round-the-world tour that recalls Calvino, Millhauser and The Confidence Man.”
—Stewart O’Nan, author of Last Night at the Lobster
“Emblematic of its many delightful complexities, the writer-as-narrator of this exciting debut novel brings to mind both Holden Caufield and Tom Ripley. This is a coming of age novel, albeit not an especially tender one; rather it is infused with wicked satire on the pursuits of wealth, fame and love. As if he were running the literary equivalent of a game of 3-card Monte, Jansma's protagonist artfully charms and deceives his friends and readers as a means to revealing what is true. THE UNCHANGEABLE SPOTS OF LEOPARDS is a remarkably smart novel and it's great fun, too.”
—Binnie Kirshenbaum, author of The Scenic Route
“Kristopher Jansma is a brilliant writer of energetic, original, intelligent, skillful and highly imaginative and hysterically funny fiction. Few writers of any age succeed in the chances he took with THE UNCHANGEABLE SPOTS OF LEOPARDS. That he does so with such finesse, ease and maturity is astounding.”
—Stephen Dixon, author of What Is All This?
“Lies are as essential to our lives as truth, time, and love. With THE UNCHANGEABLE SPOTS OF LEOPARDS, Kristopher Jansma escorts us through a carnival funhouse of literary mirrors where truth and lies are so delightfully melded that we, like the
characters themselves, don’t care to distinguish between them. The result is a dynamic, imaginative adventure featuring a trio of characters that are constantly shifting, yet instantly recognizable, as endearing as they are flawed. But the true leopards of
Jansma’s novel may be the deep questions crouching deftly within its pages. I, for one, may never regard my own reflection with quite the same certainty again."
—Kenneth Slawenski, author of J.D. Salinger: A Life
“The brilliance of this novel slays me! With an extravagance of wit and grace, Kristopher Jansma has masterfully composed a chimerical, matroshka doll of a story as gripping as it is inventive, as moving as it is hilarious, populated with fascinating,
singular characters about whom you long to know more and more and more. (Even the extras are drawn in pitch-perfect detail.) It reminded me of so many favorite novels, from David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten to Gary Shteyngart’s The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, and yet it’s so deeply original that all comparisons fall out the window. This is the most fresh and exciting novel I’ve read in ages.”
—Joanna Smith Rakoff, author of A Fortunate Age
About the Author
Kristopher Jansma is the author of Why We Came to the City and The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, winner of the Sherwood Anderson Foundation Fiction Award. A graduate of Columbia University’s MFA program, he is now an assistant professor of English and creative writing at SUNY New Paltz and a graduate lecturer in fiction at Sarah Lawrence College. He has written for the New York Times, Salon, The Believer, The Millions, Slice, BOMB, and Electric Literature. He lives with his wife and son in Brooklyn, New York.
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If you believe that you are the author of this book, please contact Haslett & Grouse Publishers (New York, New York) at your first convenience
And so it begins, this dizzying little excursion. It's oh so much fun!
The novel contains a dozen interconnecting, sometimes overlapping, stories. All but one appears to be from the voice of the author, whomever that is. I do not believe we learn his real name, ever. He is a would be writer, believing that being a great liar is his key to achieving that goal. So he is loose with the truth, even in his personal life, and throughout the novel undergoes a variety of personas, going by a variety of names: Timothy Wallace, Pinkerton, Outis, Walter Hartright. Even his closest friend accuses him of seeing him as nothing more than a character he's created. Each chapter, story, is a slight retelling or reworking of the same theme, though most times well disguised. Names change, places change, events skewed. So the reader is left with to wonder, how much is real, or is it all a lie? As the author says at the end of his first bit of notes: "These stories are all true, but only somewhere else." 
The author is jealous of his best friend and sometime roommate's literary ability. At times named Julian, or Jeffrey, or Anton, depending on the retelling, he is a talented, though tortured soul. Their relationship reminded me somewhat of that between Charles Ryder and Sebastian in Evelyn Waugh's BRIDESHEAD REVISITED. There is much more to this novel which I won't go into, the coming of age story, the author's search for the love of his life, the travelogue aspect in Dubai, Ghana, Luxembourg, the quest for literary fame and fortune, the demarcation between truth and lies, fantasy and reality.
Scattered throughout, there is a recurring motif: the game of checkers. In the game of checkers, if one has managed to move a piece all the way across the board to a square on the final row in enemy territory, it is "kinged" and now inherits the abililty to move back to where it began. The novel itself is recursive, finally seeming to return to the beginning.
After reading it once, skimming back over it again, and then giving it much thought, I'm still not quite sure I have my head around this novel. It is surely one I will want to come back to again in the near future. It's wonderful.
He starts with a basic template that most of us have read in various iterations: an aspiring boy from a not-so-great background falls under the spell of a far more worldly and insanely talented friend. Both would-be writers identify each other as worthy competitors. And to complicate things, our narrator begins to develop feelings for a mesmerizing stage actress - a friend of his competitor - who has ambitions of her own.
So far so good. Been there, done that. But now the story begins shifting. The talented classmate becomes, in turn, Julian, Jeffrey or Anton. The actress? In any given part of the novel, she may be married to a famous Indian geologist (whom she exchanges vows with at the rim of the Grand Canyon!), a Japanese royal, or a Luxembourg prince in line for the throne.
The narrator, too, shifts identities. At one point, he is a debutante's escort...in another, he's a professor of journalism, teaching under an assumed name...in still another, he's Outis - a Greek name from The Odyssey - who writes false term papers for spoiled Dubai scions. His personal odyssey follows a path from North Carolina to a city college in New York City...from Dubai to Sri Lana and Ghana...and finally, to an obscure writer's colony in Iceland.
This is a writer's book and a reader's book as well. We see the narrator struggling with his creative muse and even peek over his shoulder as he writes stories within stories. There's subtle humor (one of his earlier rejected stories gives a nod to Dorothy Allison, with the title Just Another Bastard Out Of Carolina.)
As the novel progresses, it begins to tilt towards zaniness as it lets loose its moorings. The effect is a sort of gimmicky distancing, which makes this novel - for me - a 4.5. Yet the book is so fresh and original, so fascinating as it shines its spotlight on truth and storytelling, that I am upping it to a 5. Who can NOT love a book that starts this way: "If you believe you are the author of this book, please contact Haslett & Grouse Publishers (New York, New York) at your first convenience." It's all uphill from there.
Still, there are some wonderful characters in this tale, and there's lovely imagery. More than once I thought of the deftness of Fitzgerald at his romantic best. Early in the book, I would have given it five stars. As I read more, I knocked off a star. And by the end, I was all the way down to three stars. But having said that, I would happily read more by this author. His is a promising talent.