The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards

4.5 6
by Kristopher Jansma

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"F. Scott Fitzgerald meets Wes Anderson" (The Village Voice) in this inventive and witty debut about a young man’s quest to become a writer and the misadventures in life and love that take him around the globe—from the author of Why We Came to the City

As early as he can remember, the narrator of this remarkable novel has wanted

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"F. Scott Fitzgerald meets Wes Anderson" (The Village Voice) in this inventive and witty debut about a young man’s quest to become a writer and the misadventures in life and love that take him around the globe—from the author of Why We Came to the City

As early as he can remember, the narrator of this remarkable novel has wanted to become a writer. From the jazz clubs of Manhattan to the villages of Sri Lanka, Kristopher Jansma’s hopelessly unreliable—yet hopelessly earnest—narrator will be haunted by the success of his greatest friend and literary rival, the brilliant Julian McGann, and endlessly enamored with Evelyn, the green-eyed girl who got away. A profound exploration of the nature of truth and storytelling, this delightful picaresque tale heralds Jansma as a bold, new American voice.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Jansma’s arresting debut follows the real and imaginary tales of an unnamed narrator whose ambition skyrockets after meeting the wealthy and gifted writer Julian McGann in college. The young men become friends based on a fierce competition to outwrite each other. “Somewhere, once, I read that the only mind a writer can’t see into is the mind of a better writer. When I watched Julian watching the world, I was always reminded of this.” Along the way, the narrator falls desperately in love with Julian’s beguiling friend Evelyn, and in the run-up to her wedding begins sleeping with her. As Julian’s writing attracts the kind of fervor that happens rarely, the narrator plods along in the man’s overpowering shadow until his own behavior, and what it brings out of Julian, wrench the two friends apart. While keeping an eye on Julian from afar, the narrator struggles to develop himself as a separate individual from Julian, an effort that seems all but impossible as the two men would have been formless without the impact of each other. Jansma’s characters deftly explore the blurred lines between fact and fiction, discovering the shades of truth that lie in between. Agent: Chelsea Lindman, the Nicholas Ellison Agency. (Mar. 25)
Kirkus Reviews
A self-referential first novel about truth, plagiarism, identity and writer's block. He's 8 years old, with only the kindly concession holders in the airport terminal to look after him; his mother, a flight attendant, has left him in their charge. (His father was a one-night stand during a layover.) What kind of a woman would treat her son like that? We'll never know; she never appears. Jansma is not interested in character-building, let alone plot. What's more consequential is that the kid writes his first story in the terminal: It's about a boy detective hiding in a trash can. Then (irony!) a real-world policeman sweeps it into the trash. Omens like these provide the novel's steppingstones. Eight years later, the nameless narrator has an after-school job in a North Carolina art museum; keep in mind the 1863 portrait in gold of a nude woman. Next, the Nameless One is at a college in the Berkshires, where he becomes friends with Julian, another aspiring writer who's gay, and the beautiful actress Evelyn. Later, Julian will publish a wildly successful novel; all the wretchedly unproductive Nameless can get published is a short story in an obscure journal. It's a mashup, Julian as Anton Chekhov, and there's a story-within-the-story about an 1863 gilder. Jansma is enamored of these echo-chamber effects; years later, the American gilder has become a Tamil on a DVD. The characters remain without substance. Evelyn may be the love of the narrator's life, or she may be a fantasy, as much a fantasy as her eventual husband, who morphs from a Hindu geologist into a prince of Luxembourg. The narrator assumes a buddy's identity, does some plagiarizing on the Internet and keeps moving, from Dubai to Sri Lanka to Ghana to Iceland to Luxembourg. Jansma has a ways to go before he can master postmodern technique.
From the Publisher
"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

“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

“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.”
Book Reporter

“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.’”
Shelf Awareness

“Captivating…[A] smart, searching debut about art and identity.”
Library Journal

“[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.”
Booklist (Starred)

“[An] arresting debut…Jansma’s characters deftly explore the blurred lines between fact and fiction, discovering the shades of truth that lie in between.”
—Publishers Weekly

“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

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Product Details

Viking Adult
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.38(w) x 9.18(h) x 0.96(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“Behold THE UNCHANGEABLE SPOTS OF LEOPARDS: an eloquent, witty, and inventive debut novel about a promising young writer's persistent quest to reinvent himself. Kristopher Jansma masterfully explores the ways in which we lie in order to grasp the most inexplicable truths in art, life, and love. The protagonist is a trickster-artist and con artist alike; he is Houdini,Tom Ripley and Hemingway rolled into one. But despite his web of lies, we can't help but root for him all the way to the end. THE UNCHANGEABLE SPOTS OF LEOPARDS is a tour de force—a nest of Russian dolls, with stories within stories, each tale bringing us a little closer to some glimmer of the truth."
—Mira Bartok, author of The Memory Palace, winner of the National Book Critic's Circle Award

“Clever, smart and beautifully written, THE UNCHANGEABLE SPOTS OF LEOPARDS is not only a story about storytelling but also a true celebration of the art. At times hilarious and heart-wrenching, Jansma has managed to produce a mind-bending and utterly unforgettable book.”
—Andrew Porter, author of The Theory of Light and Matter

"Serious fun. What romantic comedy used to be in the time of Shakespeare. Not a breath of fresh air, but a gale."
—Martin Cruz Smith, author of Three Stations

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Meet 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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