Mansbach is a novelist best known for a parody. But donít
think that he bears any ill will toward "Go the
F**k to Sleep," his hilarious, bestselling ode to
a funny thing; I think people expect that Iím somehow
embittered by being known for that book, and Iím
definitely not," says Mansbach. "Itís opened
some doors for me. Iím grateful for all of the
attention. People who know me are tickled by what
happened because it was an honest manifestation of my
humor, and it hit the zeitgeist in a weird way."
however, Mansbach hopes readers turn their attention to
his engaging new novel, "Rage is Back"
(Viking, $26.95). Itís narrated by the wily teenage
Dondi Kilroy Vance, the wisecracking biracial son of New
York Cityís most notorious graffiti artist of the
golden age, Billy Rage (Dondiís mom, Karen, was an
infamous artist back in the day, too). "Three hours
into my earthly existence, Billy went bombing, because
thatís what a fiend does," Dondi tells us.
"Triumph and tragedy are met identically. Boredom
too. Something happens, or nothing happens, and you need
flees the city after bombing (spray painting) one too
many trains with a message accusing a Vandal Squad cop
of murdering his friend, and he doesnít return for 16
years, when Dondi has been kicked out of his prestigious
prep school (the "Whoopty Who Ivy League Weís A
Cominí Academy") for selling weed. What happens
when the family reunites ó and by family we mean whole
weird, wild tribe of graffitiís best, brightest and
craziest ó involves father-son dysfunction, time
travel, mind-bending hallucinogens, shamanism and an
epic graffiti caper to restore the balance of power in
New York Cityís tunnels ó and to turn those trains
once again into rolling works of old-school art.
great about Adam is that his writing is often funny, but
itís never silly or light," says Victor LaValle,
author of "The Devil in Silver," via email.
"While reading ĎRage is Backí Iíd be laughing
pretty hard at some scene and only later realize just
how much serious business the scene had dealt with. Itís
takes a special touch to make a reader both laugh and
a kid who grew up in New York City in the í70ís and
í80s it was also just fun to see that long-gone New
York City evoked in the pages of this novel. Adam doesnít
ignore the decay and crime that blighted those decades,
but he also insists the time period generated true
magic, true American art."
who lives in Berkeley, Calif., grew up as a fan of
hip-hop in the 1980s and í90s, and the beats drew him
to the world of graffiti. He spent a big chunk of his
life preparing to write this novel, even if he didnít
then, when hip-hop was under the cultural radar, you had
to be conversant in all parts of it," he says.
"I was a bad graffiti writer, never serious about
it, but to be part of that community you had to be
knowledgeable to all the elements of it, music, dancing,
the visuals. And the visuals of graffiti always appealed
me, graffiti writers were the eccentrics and mad
geniuses of hip-hop. They labored in obscurity. There
were so many paradoxes in their art and how they thought
about it. It was art and vandalism. ... Even the words
to describe it: Theyíd use Ďbeautifyí and Ďdestroyí
interchangeably, with all this language of violence and
destruction ‚Ä" bombing trains, killing lines.
There was always something epic about graffiti."
is Back" is a bracingly funny book, largely due to
Dondiís magnetic narration ("I was gonna do this
as a footnote," he explains, in describing one
scene, "but I think itís disrespectful to make a
mother----- rove his eyes all the way down to the bottom
of the page and up again ó plus, if the words matter,
print them in a font I can read, you know?").
said heís never had so much fun writing anything. A
white writer telling a story from the point of view of a
black teenager is often eyeballed uneasily by critics,
but Mansbach gets Dondi just right, and nobody is
something I donít do lightly," says Mansbach, who
is also the author of "Angry Black White Boy,"
a satire about a white kid deeply invested in hip-hop.
"Iíve been engaged with these issues in a pretty
serious way, and the stakes are higher. But thatís
true any time youíre writing a character of another
race or genre, a male writer writing a female character
or a straight writer writing a gay character."
all his fine comic writing, Mansbach doesnít neglect
the more serious aspects of New York Cityís battle
over graffiti in "Rage is Back."
war on graffiti in many ways was a war on young people,
young people of color in particular," he says.
"The reaction to graffiti opened the door and
ushered in a lot of what we see today in public policy:
the zero tolerance policy, misdemeanors being elevated
to felony. Graffiti is also a window into sociology. ...
Itís poignant: The guys who invented graffiti watched
it die in front of them. By the Ď90s the city had won.
They buffed trains clean before they left the
"Rage is Back" is any indication, Mansbach is
nostalgic for the old days .
evolution of the art on the train happened so rapidly,
itís a compressed history of art, like going from cave
drawings to Cubism in five years," he marvels.
"There was an intensity to it. A lot of the
old-school writers said things evolved so fast you
couldnít leave the city. ... Theyíd say, ĎI canít
go on vacation, I gotta sit on the benches and see what
was nothing remunerative to it. These kids were devoted
to it with a purity and a drive that is hard to imagine
today. The world is so different. Now theyíd be
such complexity, of course, is one of the things
Mansbach likes best about being a writer.
always draws me ó like loving your kid to death but
being willing to do anything to get out of the