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THE LEARNERS by Chip Kidd

THE LEARNERS

By Chip Kidd

Pub Date: Feb. 18th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-7432-5524-0
Publisher: Scribner

Graphic designer Kidd (The Cheese Monkeys, 2001) writes a novel about a graphic designer.

Considering the author’s job experience, it’s natural that at times the narrator digresses (if there’s such a thing as a digression in a postmodern novel) and gives us his thoughts about the applicability of certain fonts in certain contexts. (For example, it’s bad form to write “You have inoperable cancer!!” in a loopy script.) Right out of college, narrator Happy gets a job at a graphic-design firm in New Haven, in part because his most charismatic professor in college had previously worked at this same firm. There he is introduced to the idiosyncratic subculture of graphic designers. He meets Sketch, a master at drawing potato chips for the firm’s Krinkle Kutt account; Mimi, the formidable matriarch of the firm, who “doesn’t go to extremes; she lives there”; Tip, creator of witty slogans; and head copywriter Preston, whose creative spasms are in the past and who in the present can only produce uninspired clichés. Happy’s on-again, off-again girlfriend Himillsy (was there ever a more awkward name?) kills herself unexpectedly, and Happy suspects that her death has something to do with her participation in “obedience experiments” originally conducted by Stanley Milgram at Yale in the 1960s. Periodically Kidd allows abstractions such as Wit, Irony and Deception to make brief appearances, setting a context for what’s to come. The big news in the novel is not Himillsy’s suicide but the firm’s desperate attempt to land a lucrative account for Buckle Shoes—and whether it’s possible to design an ad that doesn’t show feet.

Whimsical, at times bordering on fey, but also keen-edged and original.