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Adam Levin
The Instructions
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2010

USA Trade Hardcover, First Edition
ISBN 978-1-934-78182-1
Publication Date: 11-01-2010
1,030 pages, $29
Date Reviewed: 11-23-2010

Index:  General Fiction  Fantasy

What is a messiah? Who is the Messiah? Adam Levin's 'The Instructions' attempts to answer both questions — thoroughly. And yet, we're given just a glimpse of a boy who may be more than a man, a snippet of a life that may mean more than life itself. Get ready for contradictions, and be ready to commit. Adam Levin's 'The Instructions' commands your attention. Not because it's 1,030 pages and not because it's a book-brick from a prestigious literary publisher. Give yourself an afternoon with Adam Levin, and you'll live the next four days of a Messianic life. Who would have thought being the messiah would be this much fun?

Levin frames his inner-vision of a visionary with a keen but sparse meta-fictional exo-skeleton. 'The Instructions' is a document "translated and retranslated from the Hebrew and the English by Eliyahu of Brooklyn and Emmanuel Liebman," a 21st-century Talmud told by Gurion ben-Judah Maccabee. He's a precocious junior-high-school kid who employs the most powerful tool that man has made with a ferocity that is unnerving to those around him and his readers as well. Gurion, encased in the not-so-helpless body of a teenaged American boy, goes to war against the world armed only with language.

And such language! Levin wrestles the reader to the ground with a unique patois that is an ass-kicking blend of surly teenager and blood-drenched ancient wisdom. Excess is never enough, and excessive violence is countered and framed with language that is even more violent than the physical acts. Mind control, bullying, pandering, finagling, terrorizing, every trick in the book and a few invented in this book make 'The Instructions' a breathtaking immersion. But it is as often breathtaking by virtue of Gurion punching someone in the solar plexus as it is by virtue of flights of rhetorical greatness. From word one to word, what — 293,341? — 'The Instructions' is a gripping sentence-to-sentence adventure.

This is not a thousand-plus pages of speechifying. Levin knows, Gurion knows that words must follow actions, and there's plenty going on here as well. Yes, we see it through the microscope of scriptural ecstasy, but what we see is often a contrast to the beauty of the words telling the story. Levin has a pretty gritty story to tell here, with hostages and stand-offs, unfortunate loves and miracles that are only miraculous to those of us who aren't the Messiah. That is, everyone reading the book.

Given the size and scope of the novel, it's not surprising that you'll find a lot of humor here. Not that 'The Instructions' is a comedy. Or if it is, it's the Divine Comedy, that grand scheme of life and why we are alive gone off the rails and about to crash. You will need to exercise patience with Levin's tome; and it clearly is not for every reader. But that patience will be rewarded with what ultimately proves to be a re-wiring of our relationship with language. From Gurion's mouth, in Adam Levin's novel, language is no virus from outer space. It's a weapon. It's a messiah, it knows that you have sinned, and it is here to take you down.

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