Kilroy Dondi Vance tells of growing up the mixed race son of graffiti artists Billy Rage and Wren 209. Rage’s crew celebrate Dondi’s 1987 birth by “bombing” trains in the Coney Island Train Yard. Amuse, one of the Immortal Five crew, ends up shot dead by Transit police captain Anastacio Bracken. Rage goes on a bombing run to paint variations on “Bracken killed Amuse” on anything and everything across the city, including a Central Park polar bear. The others in the crew fall to arrest, prison and an unexplained blindness. Billy Rage disappears into Mexico. This is the back story to the novel and I won’t give any spoilers here. The novel takes place in 2008. Rage is rumored dead. NYC train art is but a memory. Bracken is running for mayor. Then someone starts writing wild new art in subway tunnels. Rumors fly. Word is that Rage is back looking for vengeance.
Rage leaves little room across the love/hate spectrum as it is a stylistically strong novel. Dondi’s first person account includes a running meta narrative, such as reflecting on how other authors have evoked drug trips in their writing before he delves into several pages of a surreal journey courtesy of a strange jungle brew drizzled on a blunt. But this fits the prep school scholarship student as the first person narrator with his literary agency-working mom. Sure the author is winking at the reader, but it works in the context of the story. The book also intriguingly blends supernatural elements. Again, I don’t want to spoil things for the readers who will follow. For me the mix works as Mansbach knows his craft. He is an able guide for a foray into a very different life. The result is something like J.D. Salinger’s Haulden Caufield having Edward Abbey’s Hayduke for a father. As I say, this is a blend that you are likely to love or to loathe with no readers left relaxing on the fence.