Adam Levin Will Beat You Up

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We just received this new novel in the mail, Adam Levin’s The Instructions. It’s comprised of two volumes, 1020 pages, with no text on the cover except the word FOLLOW in all capitals. The official description starts out:

Beginning with a chance encounter with the beautiful Eliza June Watermark and ending, four days and 900 pages later, with the Events of November 17, this is the story of Gurion Maccabee, age ten: a lover, a fighter, a scholar, and a truly spectacular talker. Ejected from three Jewish day-schools for acts of violence and messianic tendencies, Gurion ends up in the Cage, a special lockdown program…

— but why do you need to know any more than that? If the name of the protagonist (Gideon Maccabee) is a bit obvious, well, don’t hold it against Levin. He’s got a toolbox full of writing skills, but subtlety is not one of those skills. “Hot Pink,” one of his earlier stories for McSweeney’s magazine, followed around a pair of Chicago thugs who basically walked around town, crashing afternoon barbecues and beating people up. I know I’m oversimplifying, and the story really did have a huge emotional push — which is to say, at the end, you felt lost and sad and sympathized entirely with this fairly harsh and amoral guy.

And now we have The Instructions, which is about pre-teen Jewish kids and relationships and revolutions. Sounds heady and intellectual enough, right? Seven pages in, and we’ve got our first rumble:

I tried to break my fingers, to see if I could. It was something I’d try every couple of hours. I’d match up the tips of right and left and push. They wouldn’t ever break. I’d think: They can’t. This time was no different.

And then we get to the 3-page fight scene, which is told entirely in dialogue — “Gangrene set in yet?” “Do not play with us!” “No one f**ken plays with us!” “Look at that latch. That’s blood on that latch.” “I didn’t even notice the blood till you said.” — and is as crisp and vivid as any report of boxing on the radio.

Okay, right now that’s about all we know. This probably isn’t even what the cover looks like. But I’m excited to read the rest. Let me just say that.

Posted on August 2, 2010

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