"A thirteen-year-old is a kaleidoscope of different personalities, if not in most ways a mere figment of her own imagination. At that age, what and who you are depends largely on what book you happen to be reading at the moment.”
While not 13 anymore, the desire to read almost anything and everything in order to read for fun and for experience is still around. I'm currently working on my PhD in a physical science, but I love to read and books are one of my non-science hobbies.
I'd been highly recommended Mortal Leap for about a year and a half before I finally requested it through inter-library loan (my reading time may be infringed upon by my grad student life but I wouldn't give up the library privileges for the world, except maybe graduating eventually). It showed up right as the semester went nuts. Of course, not as nuts as the plot and premise of this novel.
Our narrator starts out as a young man in Utah, from a devout Mormon family, who will rather get caught reading a girly mag instead of the Joseph Conrad novels he loves. He has issues for sure, and before too long our narrator is on his way to reinvention, first on a ship and then having his face and hands so badly burned he cannot be identified. His purest form of reinvention is literally erasing his previous identity.
Mortal Leap was originally published in 1964 and it's difficult to get a copy outside of libraries. The story itself is strange and captivating, and I can't seem to figure out why the book went out of print. The nameless narrator deals with what happens when one does not feel strongly attached to a particular place or way of life, and what happens when people start to drift. There are some weaknesses in the middle of the novel while there is a sense of safety where the narrator is passing himself off as a man with a wife and history outside of his own sad life, but these are remedied by the end of the novel in a very neat way. The wife that our narrator comes out of the woodwork to claim is not just some object, as the narrator first sees him, and I loved how she was given a larger role by the finale.
There is some lower than navel-gazing, over-thinking about life, and some great commentary on readers and literature, in addition to the crazy plot. It's multilayered enough that no matter how annoying or rude the narrator becomes, there is still a reason to stick it out until the end.
A man with a poor, unimportant background sees chances to reinvent himself, finally literally as a different person, with a different identity and different family.
(Those of you Mad Men nerds out there know what I'm talking about. The rest of you, don't Google just go watch the show. You'll see the connection and it's even more unbelievable that Mortal Leap has not been reprinted. NYRB could make a mint.)