Rage Is Back: A Novel

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9780670026128: Rage Is Back: A Novel

Welcome to the Great American Graffiti Novel

Number one New York Times bestselling author Adam Mansbach returns with a blockbuster tale of revenge, redemption, and the world’s most beautiful crime. Dondi Vance is the son of two famous graffiti artists from New York City’s “golden era” of subway bombing. Recently kicked out of his prestigious prep school for selling weed—and his mother’s Brooklyn apartment for losing his scholarship— he’s couch-surfing his way through life, compulsively immune to rumors that his long-lost father, Billy Rage, has returned after sixteen years on the lam.
 
But Dondi’s old man really is back—what’s left of him, that is. A wizened shell of his former self, Billy is still reeling from a psychic attack by an angry sha-man in the Amazon basin when Dondi finds him at the top of a pseudo-magical staircase in DUMBO. The uneasy reunion comes just in time: Anastacio Bracken, the transit cop who ruined Billy’s life and shattered his crew back in 1987, is running for mayor. Only by rallying the forgotten writers of the eighties for an epic, game-changing mission can Billy and Dondi bring Bracken down.
 
In this mind-bending journey through a subterranean world of epic heroes, villains, and eccentrics, Adam Mansbach balances an intricately plot­ted, high-stakes caper with a wildly inventive tale of time travel and shamanism, prodigal fathers and sons, and the hilariously intertwined realms of art, crime, and spirituality. Moving throughout New York City’s unseen com­munities, from the tunnel camps of the Mole People to the drug dens of Crown Heights, Rage Is Back is a kaleidoscopic tour de force from a writer at the top of his game.

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Review:

Amazon Best Books of the Month, January 2013: In a show of literary multidexterity, the author of the best-selling faux children's book Go the F**k to Sleep has written a sassy, snarky homage to '80s-era graffiti artists and the city that was their canvas. Mansbach wields a jazzy, poetic voice (often in the second person, but it somehow works) in a druggy haze of a story full of heart and soul. Billy Rage is an infamous graffiti artist who's returned to New York--and the son he abandoned--16 years after the murder of a fellow artist at the hands of city police. At times I wondered if I was feeling sentimental for my New York days, but the deeper I read, the more I realized Mansbach might be something of a mad genius, a potty-mouthed poet with madcap Vonnegut-like qualities and a unique sense of metaphor: a dastardly laugh sounds "like a kid falling down a flight of stairs"; a sob jumps from a woman's mouth "like the first dude to leap from the North Tower." Fresh, fast-paced, and funny, this is a story New Yorkers will love and others will appreciate for the rap-style dialogue and patois of the urban artist. --Neal Thompson

Ten More Books for Readers of Rage is Back

One thing I love about writing novels is that each project is surrounded by a discrete set of sources, influences, and inspirations. Rage is Back is a story about a decimated graffiti crew of the '80s staging an epic comeback in 2005 to take down a dirty cop who's now running for mayor; it's also got crazy rainforest drugs, minor incidents of time travel, a large cast of eccentrics, and a son's reckoning with the father he's never known. There are a lot of worlds to juggle, and the books that helped me do it are just as diverse. Here are ten worth diving into.

Rule of the Bone, Russell Banks
Rage is Back rests solely on the voice of its wisecracking, digressive, and hopefully charming narrator, eighteen-year-old Dondi Vance--it's up to him to take the reader on a wild ride, and sell him on some stuff that challenges reality as we know it. In Rule of the Bone, Banks attempts a similar gambit with The Bone, a gutterpunk from upstate New York who ends up reinventing himself in Jamaica. The fact that it works, brilliantly, gave me the confidence to throw my lot in with Dondi.

2666, Roberto Bolaño
In this none hundred page masterpiece, written as he was dying, Bolaño breaks every rule of fiction imaginable: narratives fracture and double back on themselves, plot lines dissolve just as they're screaming toward resolution, new characters are introduced two pages from the book's end. Through the totalizing, frenzied power of his vision, Bolaño imbues 2666 with a terrifying, beautiful, sometimes hilarious logic all its own. Reading it is exhausting--in the best possible way.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe
I first read Wolfe's lyrical nonfiction account of the 1960s adventures of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters when I was in high school, and I go back to it every few years. No one has ever done a better job writing about hallucinogens--gotten inside the drug experience--better than Wolfe; the fact that he did it by osmosis rather than consumption makes this book all the more impressive. He balances verbal acrobatics with precise control, and that's not easy.

The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City, Jennifer Toth
A fascinating account of the hundreds of people who make their homes underground--some of them in elaborate, highly structured communities, others isolated in bunker-like warrens. Highly readable, deeply thoughtful, and very helpful for me, since the Mole People and the tunnels figure heavily in Rage is Back.

Subway Art, Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper
The game-changing classic text of subway graffiti, first published in 1984. Along with the documentary Style Wars, these photographs helped to spread the movement worldwide, and canonize the styles evolving daily on the mobile steel canvases of New York City. Henry and Martha's photos gave writers the chance to study pieces in depth--as opposed to catching fleeting glimpses as the trains pulled into stations or rumbled across elevated tracks--thus contributing directly to the further evolution of style.

Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
I wanted Rage is Back to be an adventure story, first and foremost: exhilarating and unpredictable, like the books I read as a kid. But Treasure Island is here for a specific reason: the chapter where Jim hands off narrative duties to Captain Smollett, to tell a part of the story for which Jim wasn't present. I remember being struck by that, even as a kid--I'd never seen it before, and it was thrilling and weird. So I did the same thing in Rage, with Dondi passing the baton to Cloud 9 for one rollicking chapter.

The Fortress of Solitude, Jonathan Lethem
Lethem weaves one magical element into this otherwise realistic, gritty, NYC-based book with confidence and understatement. My approach to the supernatural isn't quite the same as his--my characters spend a lot of time disbelieving and debating--but I admire the way he does it; this book made me think hard about what contemporary American "magic realism" (a terms I know Lethem hates, and I'm hesitant to use as well) looks like. Also, Jonathan's brother Blake, a.k.a. KEO, did the lettering on the cover of Rage is Back; he's a font of knowledge with a knowledge of fonts.

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, Jeff Chang
Nobody has done as thorough a job of painting the big-picture political history of hip-hop as my man Jeff: he frames the movement's developing aesthetics in the context of policy and poverty, post-industrialization and immigration. He narrates the tensions between youth and authority, art and commerce, neglect and confinement, with journalistic precision and scholarly vision.

Graffiti Kings, Jack Stewart
Stewart was an early graff scholar whose masters' thesis on graffiti was filed in 1982, and passed around among writers in its unpublished form for many years thereafter. Finally published a few years ago, it's like a long-awaited prequel to Subway Art, full of photos that document an earlier era, giving light to an older generation of writers. For me, after years of hearing more about these innovators that I'd seen, this was like unearthing a whole new strata in the fossil record.

Clockers, Richard Price
Rage is Back moves between many worlds--from Upper East Side prep schools to Crown Heights drug dens--and Price is a master of that kind of expansive fluidity. People always praise the versimillitude of his dialogue, but it's the level on which Price understands and empathizes with his characters that lets him put those choice words in their mouths.

About the Author:

Adam Mansbach ’s books include the number one international bestseller Go the Fuck to Sleep, the California Book Award–winning novel The End of the Jews, and the cult classic Angry Black White Boy. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, Esquire, and The Believer, and on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered.

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