I made the mistake of reading the last third of Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls out in a park on a sunny day. This was a mistake because the book is so sad I was sitting there sniffling and holding back tears in the midst of happy people in the sun looking at boats and such. If you read it on a rainy day you will feel much more in tune with the world.
A Monster Calls is about a monster who comes and visits Conor, who’s been having terrible nightmares. The monster tells him the monster will tell Conor three stories and then Conor will have to tell the monster one, and in this way the monster will help the boy.
Put like that it kind of sounds like a cool little fable kind of thing. But it’s actually a story about how death and love and cancer and everything in the universe is just not fair at all. It isn’t a fantasy story; it’s a coping with reality story.
It is so good.
I enjoyed Matt Kindt’s melancholy tale of a man who never stops growing. 3 Story isn’t told by the giant, but by his mother, wife, and daughter, each telling a story. Kindt’s art is muted watercolours, never catching too much detail as Craig Pressgang grows ever more gigantic and distant from the world. He’s hired by the CIA and used as a cold war propaganda piece. His wife builds a house they can live in where he can raise his arms and not touch the ceiling. His daughter goes searching for the man who was more a mountain to her than a father. It’s all so goddamned sad and beautiful.
Lint is a Chris Ware comic, that is a sad story about a sad man. It follows Jordan Wellington Lint from birth to death with lots of missed opportunity (especially in the various parent-child relationships he could be involved in) in between.
Chris Ware books are always interesting to read because of the way he lays out his stories, and how his drawings are so stripped down to be almost unrepresentational but they carry all this pain in them. It’s a great little book (a chapter in the ongoing Acme Novelty Library experiment), but not something to read if you want to feel wonderful about the possibilities in life.
Overqualified is a novel told in job application cover letters. It’s by Joey Comeau, who does the comic A Softer World and wrote the zombie novel One Bloody Thing After Another. (I haven’t read his latest, Bible Camp Bloodbath yet, but I will.)
When I told my girlfriend about the concept of this book she thought it sounded neat. Then I read her one of the letters and she said “Oh. It’s not very realistic. It’s just a gimmick. No one would actually write that.” And I was a little thrown off. I must have read it wrong, or prefaced it wrong. I mean, of course no one actually would write about their dead brother and throwing lightbulbs off an apartment building in a job application to GE, but it’s beautiful and sad. Or beautiful and angry like his letter to Gillette about razor-blades and sex. Or beautiful and cynical like his Hallmark greeting card ideas:
Front cover is a picture of a puppy dog with big, sad eyes. A Golden Retriever, maybe. Some breed that everyone loves, something vulnerable. The text on the front reads: “You think love has to last forever for it to be real. You think it isn’t true love unless it lasts until one of us is dead.” Inside text: “That isn’t love. That’s dog fighting.”
In every case there’s this desperation and weirdness that was weird and painful and amazing.
It’s not a clever story, which you might think it would be, with the tagline I gave it above. It’s just a weirdly emotional one about a man who’se trying to hold on to some sort of memory or reality by writing to corporations to the nonhuman beings that have all the power in our world. Reality shifts about him as he talks about all his many qualifications, but his pain remains constant.
So I should revise my original words. Overqualified is a dark, funny story about pain. Told in cover letters.
Good-bye collects some Yoshihiro Tatsumi comics from the early 1970s. Now, I don’t know a lot about manga, but I’m really interested in how these were received at the time. They’re very sad stories. One is about a man who’s about to retire and knows his wife cheated on him in the past and feels useless and decides to cheat on her and spend all their savings doing it. Another is about a hostess at a club who’s faithful to the man who took her virginity and then went to jail for four years, who tells her he’ll be her pimp when he gets out. Another is about a daughter being pimped by her father to an occupying American soldier. None of them are happy at all. They don’t make you feel good reading them (though not to the extent that Requiem for a Dream makes you feel terrible). But man, I’m glad they exist.