24 August 2012

Shortcomings, by Adriane Tomine

I picked this up after seeing it on a list of Best Graphic Novels.* I don't think it'd make my top 10 list, but it was a quick, enjoyable read. it vaguely reminded me of I'm Through With White Girls (which I liked, though maybe not as much as this post seems to suggest), Love Jones, and Medicine for Melancholy (which apparently I never wrote about? But really liked.) - mainly because of the way it deals with relationships, but also race and distance. And it's partly set in San Francisco. The plot isn't especially gripping, but Tomine really succeeds at capturing interactions between people in an amazing way. In four sparse frames, you get a fully realized fight between a couple that is so apt that it's kind of painful. Or there's a scene of the main guy having lunch with his lesbian best friend, who is hitting on the server, and it's like, yes! That is EXACTLY what hanging out with your single friend who's making on the server is like! Not that these scenes are especially earth-shattering, or reveal some profound truths about human nature, but there is a distinct pleasure to seeing them so accurately rendered. It really makes you appreciate the graphic novel as a genre. I wasn't blown away by the art, or so I thought, because it wasn't all that visually appealing, but in retrospect, it's pretty fantastic as far as representation goes.

Also, it's one of those rare works that has a protagonist who is unsympathetic in many ways, and basically gets what he deserves (in my opinion), yet you have a kind of sympathy for him. He's human. I think it helps that so many other characters in the novel are noticeably annoyed by him, and that he has a best friend who loves him despite his faults. Actually, the friend - and the other characters - aren't exactly angels either. It's a cast of flawed, somewhat irritating people, but it manages to convey its awareness of their flaws without judging them. Impressive stuff.

The racial commentary is nothing new really, but I'm generally appreciative any time a relatively light, fun work manages to smuggle in some intelligent awareness of racial issues without being preachy. In this case, it's just this side of too much, but it manages to find other things to talk about without getting completely stuck on the issue.

All in all, a pleasant book, but not a must-read.

*I like explaining how I discovered a book/movie, partly to remind myself, and partly because I'm always interested to hear how other people hear about new stuff. Also, I guess, because it gives you a sense of the kinds of expectations I brought to the work in question.

No comments: