This is the The Talented Mr. Ripley for the newest generation. It’s a twisting tale of identity and the search for true companionship. Each chapter marks another episode in the young protagonist’s life.
The book opens with an “Author’s Note”, but this is only the first of many kindly deceptions. It’s not from the author Jansma, but rather the shifting personality of the narrator. In just the first paragraph, Jansma has already sketched a fascinating and compelling narrator.
I’ve lost every book I’ve ever written. I lost the first one here in Terminal B, where I became a writer, twenty-eight years ago, in the after-school hours and on vacations while I waited for my mother to return from doling out honey-roasted peanuts at eighteen thousand feet. ~Pg. 1
From there on, Jansma has the reader in his clutches. In each chapter, the narrator is a bit older, and coming in to his own. each chapter is a slight of hand that reveals itself to be a reiteration of the same basic story. Boy loves girl who is too far above him, and is already in love with another boy. But maddeningly, the reader somehow never sees it coming. This basic strand is so far buried in the massive, complicated tapestry that we forget all about it. Until it comes back to haunt us — and the narrator.
This narrator is a chameleon by choice, donning various cloaks until he finds one that he likes. He travels the world, from the Grand Canyon to Manhattan jazz clubs, to Sri Lankan jungles to the wilds of Africa. But each time around, there is a loop he cannot escape.
Writers and literary geeks will also enjoy the narrator’s inner voice as he struggles with his own writing. In an early chapter, he talks about the standard college composition class, filled with self-important egos and undiscovered voices. Yet, even there, words have power.
Julian held books right close up to his face — a habit formed, he explained, in his nearsighted youth — and now, even with the contact lenses in, he liked to have the page within a few inches of his eyes. So close that the pages scraped the tip of his nose as he turned them. So close that, when he inhaled sharply at a particularly good turn of phrase, the paper seemed to lift up slightly and tremble before settling back again. ~Pg. 40
And he waxes rhapsodic about the writing process.
I have always done my best work in crowded transportation hubs. Airports, train stations — a bus stop, one time — these have been like my personal little cafes doted along the Seine. I’d given up being a writer, aside from the essays that I sold to my shadowy students around the globe. ~Pg. 141
And somewhere in all of these philosophical musings and attempts at identity, the truth lies. Here we come back to that thread again. That thread is the writer’s truth, that which doesn’t change despite the various characters and plot twists that life brings at us.
I so enjoyed reading this book. It doesn’t get caught up in itself or become arrogant. Instead, it shows its narrator’s weaknesses for the entertainment of the reader. It’s thoughtful enough to be affecting, but remains accessible, and more than that, it is an enchanting book.
Many thanks to Lindsay and Elaine at Penguin for the review copy.
9.25 x 6.25in
21 Mar 2013
18 – AND UP