Thanks to Lindsay and Elaine at Penguin Group USA for kindly sending us Kristopher Jansma’s debut novel The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards. I think that Mr. Jansma is definitely going to be an author to watch! His book read with a lovely prose and the story was definitely interesting enough that I read it all the way through without stopping (finished in only 3 days). The thing is, the uniqueness of this tale makes it very difficult to review! It is made up of seemingly unconnected stories that are actually connected and come around in a very cool way right back to where they started (reminiscent of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad in a way).
An unnamed narrator tells the story of his career in writing. He is only 28 years old so there really isn’t much of a career, per se, and since he is a liar and a plagiarizer you can’t really trust him to tell the truth (you never do find out his real name!). He has written 4 books so far and he has lost every single one of them. These are the tales of how the books got to be written, how they got lost and the people who influenced the stories.
These stories are all true, but only somewhere else.
He starts off in Terminal B and he is 8 years old. He goes there every single day after school to wait for his flight attendant mother to return from whatever city she is flying back from. The vendors who run the various shops in the terminal act as his babysitters and to pass the time he writes his first book. Proud of his accomplishment he asks one of them, the ancient watch repairman Mr. Bjorn, to have a read. Unfortunately, as he is reading he suddenly drops dead. The policeman who finds the body laughs at the content of the book and cavalierly discards it in the trash, breaking our narrator’s heart. He swears off writing for good– that is until he is 16 years old and a beautiful debutante convinces him that he really IS a writer. He decides then and there that he MUST pursue writing as a career.
He meets Julian (or is it JEFFERY????) in his Fiction and Poetry class at Berkshire College and he is the most gifted writer that he has ever met. He stops at nothing to become more like Julian/Jeffery (minus being an alcoholic, gay agoraphobe) and they spend the next decade in competition– writing, travelling the world and getting into SPECTACULAR fights. Throw into the mix Ev– an actress and Julian’s best friend who our narrator is madly in love with– maybe. They sleep together at every chance they get and have fun making others feel uncomfortable in their presence. But Ev is cut from the same cloth as Daisy Buchanan (of Great Gatsby fame) and only wants him when there is no Olympic swimmer, Indian Prince or King of Luxembourg available as a better option. What better fodder for a writer– Ev becomes his muse.
There are weird trips to Dubai, Sri Lanka and Iceland, encounters with leopards, rebel groups and doppelgängers and then there comes a new girlfriend who may or may not help him to forget Ev, grow up and eventually write (and not lose) the novel that has been waiting to be published. 3 stars and seriously anxious to see what comes next from Kristopher Jansma!