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The Instructions

4.04  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,978 Ratings  ·  362 Reviews
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. Expelled from three Jewish day-schools for acts of violence and messianic tendencies, Gurion ends up in the Cage, a ...more
ebook, Nook Edition, 903 pages
Published October 11th 2011 by McSweeny's (first published November 1st 2010)
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Feb 21, 2012 karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
fortunately, all the literary lynch mobs are occupied settling that mark twain business, so i can slip in here and give this book four stars instead of five with minimal outcry. this book is excellent. at times, it is perfect. this is the highest four a four can be before becoming a five - put down that torch, straggler!

and after finishing it, i feel somewhat stunned, drained, like wandering blinkingly outside after a movie marathon. i need a moment. but what i can say now, with certainty, is th
I know this much is true.

Or I think this. Suspect this. Realize this.

I know that this is the childhood of Infinite Jest before it was exposed to its titular component. I know that nothing is sacred, least of all childhood, which suffers on its sanctified pedestal. I know ideology and theology and coprology and the razors they stretch tight around the skin. I know how the blades slip into the throat in childhood, and how the ability to spit them at another screams itself out in adulthood. I know
Nov: Karen & I went to see Adam Levin read last night and he was great, not to mention ridiculously cool & nice. He is also the second author I've met who hugged me when he found out I was his copyeditor (Deb Olin Unferth, who is also fantastic, was the first). As if I could have liked him more! Shit you guys, read this fucking book already and make the man rich & famous.

also: for anyone still on the fence about trying this -- especially those with whom I've lost reliability because
Nov 05, 2010 Greg rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Greg by: Oriana
Updated 11/5. I still have no review. But Adam Levin signed my copy last night and I love what he wrote, so I'm sharing.

I recommend reading this book. I haven't had an almost* back to back awesomeness reading experience like JR and this since 1999 when I read Gravity's Rainbow and Infinite Jest in the same month.

*I'm saying almost because I'm aware that I read four books, and nine days passed between finishing JR and starting this book.
Feb 16, 2011 Jimmy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel, male, year-2010s
I’m a little overwhelmed. After finishing this, I just can’t see it as clearly as while I was in the middle of reading it. Because after finishing it, all I can focus on is the ending, but the book is so much more than that. Yes it is a unified work and it is saying big things, but I love the small things he does as much as the big things. The book is as much about these small things = slapslap, chinning, Harpo Progression, hyperscoot, I’m-Ticking, ‘Tch’ = there is an obsession with, or an under ...more
Krok Zero
Jan 23, 2011 Krok Zero rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: winter-10-to-11
Epigraph as authorial hand-tipping:

It is a curious enigma that so great a mind would question the most obvious realities and object even to things scientifically demonstrated... while believing absolutely in his own fantastic explanations of the same phenomena.

Were it not for this epigraph, which comes from Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman, the reader might, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, believe that Adam Levin tacitly approves of the violent actions of his ten-year-old sc
Jun 22, 2013 Hadrian marked it as abandoned-for-now  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american, fiction
I'm ashamed and embarrassed to admit it, but this is the second book in three years which I did not finish. Or could not.

Let me indulge in a bit of a heartfelt monologue of what I'm passionate about, but not hopefully not in an impish boast. Reading isn't a chore for me, it really isn't. Even if it's assigned reading for class or an impossibly thick pomo thing with multilingual historical references or a thousand page history of some obscure topic. On the contrary. I enjoy those. I savor those s

(pictured above: Che Guevara, analogue of Gurion Maccabee, antihero of The Instructions)

Gurion ben-Judah Maccabee is an incredibly verbose and intellectually gifted ten-year old potential messiah. He aspires to write capital-S Scripture on par with the Torah he so dearly loves. This large book is his Scripture, the Book of Gurion, his Instructions.

This is a metafictional delight. In the fashion of Lolita, The Instructions begins with the disclaimer that in reading this book, the reader is taking
I've been wanting to review this for a while, but I feel like anything I would write would just be the verbal equivalent of those five stars up there, plus a exhortation to keep reading even if the narrator's voice and the pimply middle school stuff put you off.

I've realized, though, that what I really want to do is write a retrospective analysis of the book. This will require spoilers. I know that there's this notion out there that if a book is sufficiently good or literary or whatever, spoiler
Paul Bryant
Abandoned for now and maybe forever because of sentences like this :


Context - our 10 year old hero is engaged in stealing a Coke from the Coke machine in the teachers' common room in school in order to impress a girl called June. He has already tried and failed to smash the clock in the gym hall as a tribute to his new love :

It occurred to me that maybe the Coke I was getting for June, if a strong poem were taped to it, would come closer to approximating a smash-faced gym-clock
This book kills me. (And no, not from its sheer size and weight—though it is one mammoth motherfucker.) Every single time. It is another of those first-books-should-not-be-this-fucking-good novels. Stuns me every time. Has left me, on rereads, thinking Why am I surprised at how good this is? I've read it before; I know how good it is.

You need to read this. Everyone needs to read this. Seriously. Read this.

Jun 22, 2013 Jonfaith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Perhaps it is winter, but I've found myself brooding on the roulette of contemporary literature: for every Zone or Wolf Hall, well, there's always Franzen's Freedom. A honest albeit flawed effort like The Imperfectionists can convey you only so far. I noted elsewhere that this is the season of Balzac for me personally. Thus qualified, I am so glad I picked up this book today at the library.

Having finished the novel ten minutes ago. There is a hazard in any ranking system; and yet, despite some p
Feb 26, 2011 Ren rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Let me be succinct (a quality which totally escapes Adam Levin): this is not a great book. Those reviewers who are writing "I'm 2 chapters in and it's amazing!" should heed warning - it dazzles in the beginning and fades out like a muffled fart. I damn my own literary hubris for blindly believing that The Instructions would ultimately reveal itself as the messiah of contemporary fiction. Instead, I am embarrassed to admit that I have spent nearly two months pushing through this constipated, babb ...more
MJ Nicholls
Sep 05, 2012 MJ Nicholls marked it as sampled  ·  review of another edition
This is my holy shit, this-book-is-the-second-coming, The Recognitions of our time, better than the other 1000-page bricks being written in cloying precocious childese, sort of like The Brief Life of Oscar Wao crossed with references to every postmodern luvvie of the 20th C, sort of like Palahniuk’s style in Pygmy or, dare it be said, A Clockwork Orange, heavier-than-a-box-of-satsumas, publishing event of the millennium, better than Joshua Cohen’s Witz even in the first thirty-two pages gushing ...more
Sentimental Surrealist
Wayside School Stages a Coup D'Etat, complete with questions of Jewish identity, a pile of metafictional aspects, social commentary, a surprising amount of heart behind all the violence, and special guest Philip Roth. Not as proverbially perfect as some of my five stars but an undeniably me-approved novel.
Apr 02, 2011 Mark rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
A song so appropriate it was referenced in the book: You And Whose Army

I don't think that I will ever be able to properly review this book. I'm definitely unable to muster up enough energy to try doing so now. I'm a strange mix of exhausted and exhilarated - maybe exhausted because of my exhilaration? 200+ pages of Damage Proper will do that to you. All I know is that I'm exhausted and exhilarated and bleary eyed and heartbroken. And I love this book. No it is not a perfect book, not by a long s
Before anyone starts cooking up the tar and feathers, let me just begin by saying I was probably doomed from the beginning knowing I was stepping into McSweeney-land here. I'm not going to spend time in my review defending my stance on that, other than I have preconceived notions about a lot of things that have relations with McSweeney-land - most apt to this review would be the word "clever". I would say since the early aughts there has been this whole "I'm-cleverer-than-you" movement in litera ...more
Mar 02, 2012 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is an extremely impressive achievement and should be on anyone's must read list. Levin packs in layer upon layer of metafiction, wonderful characters, amazing lines, vivid description, and an urgent storyline- among other things. It's readability belies its complexity. I turn it over in my hands over and over again and it just keeps going down, yet it reads as easily as some of the simplest written novels I've seen. That alone is impressive. I mean, if the weight of the book in my hand ...more
Jan 19, 2011 Northpapers rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Adam Levin's The Instructions is a pretty book. Admittedly, I fell in love with it for surface reasons. I pulled it off the shelf upon noting its size, the simplicity of its design, the texture of its covers, the little McSweeney's chair on the spine. I ran the "opening paragraph" check next, and I read the following:

"There is damage. There was always damage and there will be more damage, but not always. Were there always to be more damage, damage would be an aspect of perfection."

I saw that thi
Joseph Michael Owens
Oct 31, 2010 Joseph Michael Owens rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: favorites
I flew to Chicago. I actually flew to Chicago a couple days ago on the 27th of October for a single night, just to hear Adam Levin read from the last-- though, admittedly, incredibly recent-- book I truly loved (TLBI[t]L),’s own Book Club pick, The Instructions (supplanting Rick Moody’s The Four Fingers of Death, of which I still feel somewhat compelled and obliged to write something at a later time, at the 11th hour as my pick for TLBI[t]L).

At the time of Levin’s Chicago reading,
Jul 05, 2011 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can't review this book objectively. Not only am I a subjective writer to the core, but The Instructions also hits too close to home for me. It's about a boy, Gurion ben Judah Maccabee. He's in a special program at his current school, Aptakisic Jr. High. He's extremely violent and, along with all the other kids (ranging in age, mostly, from 10-13), is fantastically intelligent. Aptakisic is one of several real-life schools mentioned in the book which I or friends of mine attended. Levin, from t ...more
Dec 13, 2010 Matthew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So I just finished this book and it took me a while. Honestly, I did get a tad impatient near the end but that didn’t mean that the book wasn’t doing its job or lost its vision, it was more about me being the kind of reader who, (like most, I assume) wants to know what’s going to happen and how it's all going to end, the kind of reader who is wanting things, by page 800, to start wrapping up. But that, I’d argue, is more my fault than the book’s. So yes, the book is big, but it didn’t take me th ...more
switterbug (Betsey)
Gurion ben-Judah Maccabee is a ten-year-old Jewish misfit in Deerpark Illinois, but a brilliant misfit and Talmudic scholar. He aims for "perfect justice" and claims to be a person of peace, but he keeps getting into fights at school. He invented the pennygun, a handmade weapon that is laid out in his tract, "The Instructions." This coming-of-age novel, which takes place over four days and 1000+ pages, is so packed with adventure and metaphysics that I felt like I lived through an odyssey. Oh, I ...more
Kevin Hinman
The Instructions is an ambitious first novel that tackles a lot of serious issues like faith and conflict by narrowing the scope and then blowing that scope out of proportion. Adam Levin has been compared to DFW a lot, and while they're both maximalists, I never felt like Wallace's prose was overwritten. Not so with The Instructions. A lot of the novel is a slug to get through, which is something I rarely find myself thinking. Gurion's POV can be labored and repetitive and yes, whiny (Levin trie ...more
Nov 23, 2010 McKenzie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. This is the kind of book that I'll have to think about for days in order to figure out what I really think. It was truly a reading experience. Levin's writing is astonishing, the characters--though implausible--are intriguing, and the plot of this gargantuan novel is something that I don't think I'll ever forget. The descent from Tuesday to Friday, from locker room fights to the Gurionic War, at times terrified me because Levin wrote in such a way that the increasingly violent actions seem ...more
Chris Blocker
Sep 28, 2012 Chris Blocker rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chris by: Joseph Michael Owens
Over the years I've learned that I have a great fondness for postmodernist leanings in literature. I've also learned that this fondness only goes so far. Stories which implement postmodernist techniques favor strongly with me; however, experiments of wordplay where the story, if there ever was one, gets lost grate on my nerves. Before I even opened the book I was expecting such a grating reaction with The Instructions. And when I started that first chapter, I knew this novel was going to be a hu ...more
Christopher is right about this book, it's amazing. It totally kicked the ass of the Recognitions.

I think my big question overall is, how unreliable, exactly, is this narrator? I'm pretty sure he's not 100% reliable, for various reasons, some textual and some having to do with my deep distrust of all things religious. (In fact, one of the most impressive things about this book is how much it was able to get me to empathize with an extremely and disturbingly religious person.)

There are some hints
Dec 13, 2010 Jacob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Adam Levin's "The Instructions" is somehow an intimate coming of age tale, a hilarious comic romp, a disturbing look into pre-pubescent male rage and a suprsingly moving and earnest biblical epic, all at the same time. In Gurion, Levin's ten year old protagonist, readers are presented with a loveable, brilliant, dangerous hero (or anti-hero). He's instantly iconic, a small boy in a hoodie with thoughts of rebellion and religion imprinted on his brain. I don't really want to delve into the story ...more
Jul 10, 2013 Borbality rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Just really good stuff. Vivid, fast-paced writing that comes alive and is extremely satisfying. Long without feeling like it, and smart without being academic. It’s sort of post-modern without being a chore. Seriously this is what I want when I read something huge.

The glaring issue with this book (besides the somewhat unsatisfying ending) is the verbosity. 10-year-old Gurion ben-Juddah Maccabe is the most articulate, intellectually advanced kid you'll ever come across. He and his similarly advan
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Adam Levin’s debut novel, The Instructions was published in late 2010. His stories have appeared in Tin House, McSweeney’s, and Esquire. Winner of the 2003 Tin House/Summer Literary Seminars Fiction Contest and the 2004 Joyce Carol Oates Fiction Prize, Levin holds an MA in Clinical Social Work from the University of Chicago and an MFA in Creative Writing from Syracuse University. His collection of ...more
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“The point was to learn what it was we feared more: being misunderstood or being betrayed.” 104 likes
“Why do we weep once we know that everything will be alright? We weep because the only way everything could ever be alright is in fiction. We weep because what we've seen can't be true, no matter how badly we wish it were. We weep at the truth.” 30 likes
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