Kristopher Jansma’s debut novel, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, is anything but unchangeable. The chameleonic narrator is about as unreliable and changeable as they come, or, at least, that’s what he’d have you believe. He insists that he is a liar, a teller of tall tales, and someone other than himself. He’ll never tell you his *real* name (or will he), or the names of his trio of friends – which keep changing from one chapter or story within a story to the next. He seemingly seamlessly (say that ten times fast) slides in and out of various characters, from student to writer to journalism professor to plagiarizer for hire to editor, but always he is a writer, or he would be if only he could write something he recognizes as real, and good, and true. Although, he does believe there is an art to – and a hunger for – lying:
The truth is that I actually have the greatest respect for those fantastic liars. Someday I’d like to teach a class entirely about them. “Late Great American Fakes.” My humble thesis will be that America no longer desires truth, only the reasonable facsimile thereof. Like battered lovers, we’re willing to settle. Our sense of values still holds us to dismiss that which we know, outright, to be blatant lies, but we avoid the truth with equal intensity. We wish to remain in the gray interregnum of half believe, when at all possible.
Of course, as he later admits, most of his lying is really to himself, and he wonders how much he can change, and how much he has changed, if at all. He muses about such capabilities when he comes across the son of his former lover, his to-date lifelong obsession. The boy is the same age as the narrator when he wrote – and lost – his first book.
Someday he’ll see that he can’t have one without the other. He can’t know he is the same unless everything around him has changed. It’s like black spots on black fur – you can’t see them, but they’re there, all the same.
He’ll think he’s moving in zigzags, getting anywhere but where he meant to go. But there are edges to the board, and someday he will reach one, and it is only then that life will place a true crown onto his head. It’s only then that he’ll be able to turn around and see for the first time a glorious path back from where he came.
The leopard and chess motifs pepper the novel, and this quote nicely brings them all together.
I’d definitely recommend reading this if:
- You enjoy contemporary novels that play with form.
- You don’t mind it when your narrators might be lying to you.
- You covet explorations of the hazy lines between perception, truth, fiction, and lies.
- Your current theme song could be “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
- You are easily confused and believe everything the media tells you.
- You like your plots and characters to be pretty straight-forward.
- You don’t like novels that make you think about stuff.
- You love How I Met Your Mother and hate Mad Men.
A little fun bit from Viking Penguin: pictures and metions of the book in instagram, twitter and the like with the hashtag #leopardspotting. It’s silly book fun! My editions: