The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards
March 21, 2013
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". . .resembles Russian nesting dolls."
Kristopher Jansma’s first novel, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, resembles Russian nesting dolls. An unnamed narrator resides inside multiple stories webbed inside of untruths as he quotes Emily Dickinson’s dictum, “Tell all the truth, but tell it in a slant.”
Our narrator, son of a flight attendant, spends hours alone hanging around “Terminal B.” where he writes his first book about people stealing packets of artificial sweeteners. He subsequently loses the manuscript while escaping airport police. This theme is carried throughout Jansma’s book. The narrator resides in unusual places, writes about his life, and then his work is lost, often in a bizarre way.
While living off his friend and rival, the talented writer Julian McGann, he finds himself driving sick Julian to his personal physician, Dr. Ivanych, who happens to be off fishing. At an icy lake, the doctor spears a fish that thrashes about and knocks the narrator’s hatbox containing his manuscript “into the icy hole and down into the depths of Lake Waccabuc.”
Most all of his meshed narratives also wrap around the unnamed narrator’s obsession with Evelyn, a beautiful actress with whom he has occasional sexual encounters. The characters in his novels, novellas and biographies all mirror Evelyn who becomes engaged to Dr. Avinash Singh, who is Indian royalty. The array includes Rose, ready to marry a royal prince from Greece, and Colette, a railroad heiress, prepared to wed Bertram Vanderbilt.
Conceptually the idea of a dishonest protagonist with multiple identities on a global quest to become another Ernest Hemingway is creative and seductive. But the novel’s pace fails to support the theme with a compelling, sustained dramatic performance.
Still, Jansma, a writing teacher, is talented, even crafting a situation in which the narrator steals the identity of an English professor who ponders that his chosen vocation is to tell lies and when he got good enough he’d write fiction. The irony is not missed.
Reviewer: Kate Padilla