The circle of recommending: the recommended becomes the recommender, which is what I call a teacher. And Adam Levin had a great recommender in the form of my first recommendation: George Saunders. But it turns out his student had some INSTRUCTIONS of his own to give! (You’ll get it in a minute, and if you’re enjoying a beverage while you read this, I suggest you check the trajectory of your nostrils and line anything in their path with absorbent materials.) While Saunders has been gently sprinkling his brilliance on readers in the form of short stories and essays, Adam Levin chose to drop a semi truck full of anvils from a crashing zeppelin. What I mean, I’m sure you gather, is that he wrote a huge novel. It’s a thousand plus pages of first person narration by a ten-year-old genius whose penchant for fighting for justice (with his fists) has gotten him kicked out of multiple schools and kicked into a special program for unruly children. Like most children, Gurion ben-Judah Maccabee believes it’s likely he’s the messiah, but unlike most children he combines this with a spectacular ability to inflict pain and spin sentences. He has total knowledge of the Torah and, in an unheard-of turn, is inspired by religion to go on something of a crusade. The document he’s created and that we’re reading, ”The Instructions,” is his scripture. I’ll move to a new paragraph to give you time to gather up your newly saturated nostril-fluid blockers.
The scripture begins with an experiment between friends in which they go to the brink of drowning each other in an effort to gauge their reactions as the possibility of dying looms. It ends four scant days later with a hostage crisis, a phone call from Phillip Roth and a mysterious happening that I wouldn’t spoil even if you parted the sea to get it out of me. Along the way this brilliant little scamp of a narrator will make you chuckle, convert you to Judaism and teach you how to make a gun that shoots pennies.
If you’re not into huge novels, or still haven’t finished the last huge novel I recommended, Mr. Levin offers you the short story collection “Hot Pink.” There’s humor, there’s weirdness, there are vomiting dolls, there are walls that just won’t stop oozing no matter what you do and there are even stories where things don’t excrete stuff.
“The Instructions” is a masterpiece, and “Hot Pink” is excellent, which is all that really matters when I get to the business of recommending. But maybe after you get enamored with these books you’ll do some Googling and come to the conclusion that Mr. Levin isn’t a gentleman. He curses like your angry parrot does after your foulmouthed nephews bird-sat it for a week. He gets interviewed by porn stars that your nephews Googled while they weren’t occupied by expanding your parrot’s vocabulary. I’m of the infallible opinion, even as a fellow given to simply exhaling a frustrated ”Hot mustard!” after stubbing my toe, that these facts don’t prohibit his gentlemanhood. I think it’s best to remember that famous scripture, from the book of Steven, I think: “let she who hasn’t been the least little bit rascally fire the first volley of ammunition from her penny gun.”