An ex-actress and her son trek across America, hitting comics conventions along the way in Proehl’s (Flying Burrito Brothers’ The Gilded Palace of Sin, 2008) first novel.
Six years ago, Valerie Torrey was the star of Anomaly, an X-Files–like sci-fi TV show about two time-travel agents, which has obsessive fans. When an unimaginable tragedy struck, Valerie took her son, Alex, and fled LA for New York, leaving her show and her co-star husband, Andrew Rhodes, behind. Now, she and 9-year-old Alex are headed back across the country to meet with Andrew, and as they travel, the story deftly weaves past and present events until the full account of what happened years earlier is revealed. Along the way, Valerie makes appearances at comic-book conventions, where she meets Gail, a comics writer who draws attention to gender inequality, and Brett, a struggling illustrator. Proehl’s observations about convention life are especially keen and insightful without being sneering or belittling. But by trying to appeal to comics fans and nonfans alike, the book sometimes breaks down. For example, in one chapter (conveniently titled “Women in Refrigerators”), Gail discusses at length how comics creators often kill female characters solely to spur male characters to action. While this is an important issue, Proehl just reiterates what most thoughtful comics readers already know, while possibly boring everyone else. The same could be said of Proehl’s roman-à-clef-for-nerds concept: some might enjoy the endless array of thinly veiled icons (e.g. Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, as well as comics writer Gail Simone, to name a few), but those not fully in the know may feel left behind. The prose sometimes lurches into overwrought, look-at-my–MFA style writing, but it’s a testament to Proehl’s talents that these stumbles never detract from the rest of the story, which is a genuine and often moving tale of a mother and her son.
An appealing debut novel despite a few missteps.