Would the author be better off had they left the “By the New York Times bestselling author of Go the F**k to Sleep” off the front cover? Time will tell. Rage is Back by Adam Mansbach arrived on the scene at an opportune time. I’ve been reading, with relish, the Hip-Hop Family Tree comics by Ed Piskor over at Boing Boing. The comics are focused squarely on the hip hop/graffiti golden era. It has this panel on the bottom of each episode, which bears a certain resemblance to Rage’s cover:
I’ve also been completely taken with the audacity of this amazing piece that went up in a quiet, forgotten corner of downtown Atlanta:
Just look at that! Anyway, I was primed to read a novel that featured graffiti artists from back in the day is what I’m saying.
So, yeah, back to the book. Rage is Back takes place in the present and is related to us by our teenage narrator, Dondi, the half-black/half-Jewish son of once famous graffiti taggers. Dondi kicks off his story by jumping right into the narrative :
When Ambassador Dengue Fever told me that Billy wasn’t dead after all but half alive and back in town, skulking through the Transit System’s blackened veins feral and broken and scrawling weird mambo-jahambo on the walls with chalk— chalk! as if spray paint never existed— I pretty much just shrugged a whatever shrug and kept on selling hydroponic sinsemilla to stainless steel refrigerator owners living in neighborhoods that had just been invented, and hoping Karen would let me back in the apartment soon, me being her son and all, even if I had been expelled from fucking Whoopty Whoo Ivy League We’s A Comin’ Academy on account of some Upper Eastside whiteboys’ inability to keep my botanical enterprises, of which they were the major beneficiaries, on the low.
And we’re off…!
The “Rage” in the title is Dondi’s father (Billy) who disappeared after things went down back in the day but has suddenly reappeared. Billy has been in the jungles of South America learning mysticism from shamans. He brings an element of magic realism to the story. Oh, you have a problem with that? Dondi is ready for you:
If you’re already frowning and thinking I’m an unreliable narrator, or going “oh goody, I love magical realism,” then you should cut your losses and go read Tuesdays with Morrie, before I get to the really wild shit later on. Skepticism is an admirable trait, but so is asking yourself if you’re really such a fucking Master of the Universe that things might not be happening beneath the surface of your world right now without you knowing.
Really, I could listen to Dondi’s interior dialogue all day long. The story unfolds as Dondi slowly gets to know and understand the father that abandoned him as a child, and we learn just why Rage is back. And he is angry.
I really enjoyed my time with Rage is Back. This book isn’t for everyone, clearly. If you’re a fan of old school hip hop (which gets name checked regularly) or urban art, you should check it out. If Dondi’s unique worldview, as expressed here in brief quotes, appeals to you – pick it up. Ok, one more:
Freeloading is exhausting. All conversation, no alone-time, and for the only child of a single mother like your boy here, solitude is the base of the mental health food pyramid, the grain-and-bread group of not losing my shit rather than the occasional, Chili Cheese Frito-esque indulgence some people seem to find it. When I do get some quiet, it’s in the dead-sober middle of the day, when regular citizens are out getting paid or educated, and I fritter it away shaking my fool head at the parade of unsound ideas and irresponsible people I’ve spent my life in thrall to— a great word, thrall; sounds like a monster’s gullet— while normal kids were busy soaking up all types of valuable knowledge from their square-ass parents.