Recommendation: Nice book here with a lot of flair. Got some magic, got some murder, got some graffiti, and some NY style. I’d try to read ten pages or so in the bookstore/library/online to make sure you’re down with the unique voice.
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Author of the book with the funniest title I’ve seen in recent years (Go the F**k to Sleep), Adam Mansbach diverges from the pseudo-children’s book genre with Rage is Back. Set in NYC and following Dondi Vance, the son of the best fictional graffiti artist in history, Billy Rage, Rage is Back tells a tumultuous tale of the decline and resurrection of subway train graffiti. The 80s was the heyday of subway graffiti but when Anastacio Bracken became police chief of the MTA he declared an all out war on the spray-painting artists. The scene escalates until Bracken, Rage, and four other top painters (nicknamed the Immortal Five) find themselves trapped together in a subway tunnel that only Four of the artists make it out of alive. Fast froward to 2005 and Bracken is running for mayor while Rage suddenly reappears in NY and Dondi’s life. Together, they make it their goal to stop Bracken’s bid with one giant splash of paint.
May as well throw this out there from the start, I’m a huge nerd for mythological superhero type tales and that is a large part of this story. And when I say a huge nerd, I mean I just read about 70ish comic books in the span of a week, because I had to know the origin and progression of a story line. Along that vein, I love the history of graffiti that Mansbach provides and how he uses that as the base for the supernatural aspects of the book. He creates a compelling origin story and develops an interesting reverse-dystopian mood where you can’t help but root for the insurgents to stick it to the 5-oh. For those magic-haters out there, there definitely are some creative turns and nuances that sprout up, but I was pretty impressed with the restraint Mansbach showed on that front. He uses it when it’s meaningful for the story but he doesn’t create a world where conjurations dominate the landscape, or are even used in absolute terms, and that’s exactly how Thor likes it.
Dondi’s voice is going to be problematic for some people in this book. It has a definite dialect to it and uses a lot of graffiti terms right from the get go (I think I know the difference between a burner and a throw up, but it took me a couple hundred pages). So, the best idea would be to do a little reading before you buy or borrow this book and see where you come down on our dear narrator Dondi. Personally, I liked it. It helps that I read most of it in NYC on subway trains, but even so I thought Dondi brought a lot of fun to this book and kept the things like murder, drugs, prison, and supernatural evil death creatures from weighing down the narrative too heavily. It’s not what I would call a light read, but it’s not super dense and dull, either.
The criticism I have is that Dondi doesn’t always come off as authentic. There are some parts that feel a little like stereotyping and some that dip their toes into the slimy pool of cliché, but these sections are relatively rare, pretty far between, and don’t really mess up the plot, so who cares, right?? It’s not the perfect book, but few are, so follow Dondi’s lead and have some fun while you chew on this mystery.