So I read Rage is Back a couple weeks ago, and it was good enough that I decided to check out another book the guy had written.
This book is part of a tiny hard to define sub genre of books by white male jewish authors interest in black culture. Rage is Back definitely falls into that, and so is this, but here it’s more self aware than it often is, acknowledging that there’s a thin line between appreciation and appropriation. Mansbauch is interested in jazz, and graffiti, and hip-hop, and so are his characters, but he also acknowledges that they’re hiding in a culture that is not their own, that they’re stealing, and so is he.
I mostly like how he writes women, and suspect he should do it more. The women of the book are more compelling than the men, and when their stories get pushed to the edges the book gets less interesting. There are more female characters, and they’re more interesting, but somehow it feels like their stories are rarely given free reign — part of this is a function of the novel, which is about how men use women as supporting characters in their lives.
The later parts of the novel feel weaker because they aren’t as clearly defined. The early chapters all have a clear setting and a clear point of view. As the different storylines catch up with each other in the modern day things get blurrier. Characters share chapters, and their voices blur. It tells a bigger story through collage, but unfortunately this doesn’t work as well as the precisely observed stories of early chapters, which would hold up well as short stories on their own.
In the end it’s a big family drama, about traditions and neuroses being passed down the the generations, a grandson who’s the echo of his grandfather. That’s a fine place to be in the end, but I liked some of the smaller stories nested inside better.
Overall I liked it, but thought Rage Is Back was more fun. This is trying for something grand and literary, and while it mostly succeeds, that isn’t a super thrilling thing to be.