LENA FINKLE'S MAGIC BARREL by Anya Ulinich

LENA FINKLE'S MAGIC BARREL

KIRKUS REVIEW

Ulinich (Petropolis, 2007) follows her debut with a graphic novel chronicling a young immigrant writer’s adventures through family, friendship and sex.

It’s fitting that Ulinich’s protagonist shares a first name with the creator of Girls. Besides a self-aware comparison to Lena Dunham’s film Tiny Furniture within the text, the book also shares terrain with the Dunham verse, being the story of a creative young woman’s emotional fallout from sexual exploits in neobohemia. Having emigrated from Russia with her family as a teenager, married young in Arizona (to gain a green card) and lost her virginity behind an arcade game, then settled in Park Slope, Brooklyn, as a 20-something, twice-married mother of two, our narrator is unable to grasp the touchstones of any single culture. She lays herself bare as she works through a reconnection with the possible soul mate she left behind in St. Petersburg (she sleeps with him during a cultural ambassadorship to the motherland as a successful novelist), a safari through the wilds of online dating (beware the vampire of Bensonhurst), and an explosive affair with a sensitive, damaged, miserly trust-fund artist known simply as the Orphan. While Lena's confessions occasionally clog this supposedly graphic novel with pages of nearly solid text, in other spots, it’s engagingly expressed as short, comic strip–like vignettes that juxtapose a simplistic, juvenile visual style against mature subject matter, bringing to mind the work of David Heatley. Ulinich tells the bulk of the tale in black-and-white chiaroscuro drawings that generally land somewhere between Michael Kupperman and an art school sketchbook. The inconsistency in the illustrations is maddening, with full-page, richly detailed close-ups of characters radiating pathos, while other panels are flat, stiff, workmanlike affairs that simply carry along the accompanying humorous observations. Yet for all the extended introspection, an ultimate reveal about the Orphan is elided, the omission waved off in the interest of a vague personal truth.

An entertaining intellect wrapped in ill-fitting clothes.

Pub Date: July 29th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-14-312524-2
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Penguin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2014




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