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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Review: Rage Is Back

Take one part teen angst, one part drugged-out mysticism, and one part ode to old-school B-Boy culture, mix well, and you have "Rage Is Back," the latest from Adam Mansbach.  If the name sounds familiar, it's because he created a surge of controversy with a children's book for adults called "Go The Fuck To Sleep."

"Rage Is Back" follows 18 year-old Kilroy Dondi Vance, son of 80's graffiti icon Billy Rage.  Dondi is a relbellious, disillusioned smart-ass from the outset as he whines about the events that led him to couch-surf with several friends, and change is set in motion when a member of Billy Rage's old crew informs Dondi that his father has returned to New York.  It seems that on the night that Dondi was born, Billy witnessed a delusional police officer, which sends a grief-stricken Rage on a one-man graffiti campaign against the officer.  And when the city responds by threatening jail time and a $2 million fine, Billy skips town, heading to Mexico without his wife or his infant son.  Rage's return coincides  with the mayoral campaign of the same cop that murdered his friend, so Dondi, Rage, and every graffiti artist they can find devise a plan to bring this cop down.

I found the narrative a bit stunted, filtered mainly through Dondi's eyes, leaving a healthy dose of annoying teen smugness to much of the first act.  This is cleaned up by the middle of the book as Dondi deals with his daddy issues and starts to grow up, aided by a vision quest brought about by a mystical, South American hallucinogen.  This does make the early parts of the story drag as Dondi is the self-righteous snot we all want to slap across the face.  He's initially not a very likable narrator, and is self aware enough to mention as  much.

Thematically, Mansbach touches on quite a few things that we can all relate to, such as the realization that once upon a time, our parents were "cool," or that once we focus our -- well, rage -- we can accomplish great things.  He did his homework here as he frequently references mid-to-late 80's hip-hop culture as well as the graffiti phenomenon from the time.  I personally found the mystic, hippie-ish, drugged out portions to be a bit unnecessary, but overall the story works.

By no means is Rage Is Back perfect.  The lack of a likable narrator nearly torpedoes the story in the first 50 pages.  The story, if you stick with it, is thoroughly enjoyable, and easily recommended as a way to pass a summer day.

Rating: 6 of 10.

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