Kirkus Reviews QR Code
JOKES AND THE UNCONSCIOUS by Daphne Gottlieb

JOKES AND THE UNCONSCIOUS

By Daphne Gottlieb (Author) , Diane DiMassa (Author)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2006
ISBN: 1-57344-250-X
Publisher: Cleis

Gottlieb, a performance poet, and DiMassa, creator of the comic series Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist, join forces for this graphic novel about a young woman wrestling with both her father’s death and her sexual identity.

The first venture into graphic fiction for Gottlieb focuses on Sasha, a 19-year-old spending her summer as a clerk at the same hospital where her father worked as a doctor. In Sasha’s eyes, it’s a bleak and Fellini-esque milieu: There’s a chain-smoking pregnant woman in the cafeteria; her supervisor is a mouthy woman with bad breath who’s prone to belittle her; Dad’s old colleagues dredge up the past; and the patients she encounters are either belligerent or sadly terminal. Glum stuff, but Gottlieb and DiMassa have a nicely tuned sense of gallows humor. The story (which takes its name from a book by Freud) is interspersed with lengthy stand-up jokes, told in one- or two-page breaks. Adding a little more light to the story is Jet, the raven-haired, overalls-wearing, skateboarding woman of Sasha’s dreams, though their relationship moves haltingly—Sasha has her father’s death and her neuroses about ex-boyfriends to work through, while Jet has a history of sexual abuse. It’s wordy for a graphic novel—there’s little room for images at all on some pages—and Gottlieb’s prose can be overwritten and digressive. And though it is broken out into digestible five- or six-page vignettes (an encounter with a patient here, a drunken hookup with a boy there), making the story move along somewhat disjointedly, toward the end, there’s so much chatter and varied plot points that the climax doesn’t have the impact it could have had. DiMassa helps manage some of those problems with nice metaphorical touches—she draws boys’ arms morphing into tentacles, a stick of dynamite planted in a heart valve, a computer monitor transformed into a snake’s head.

Spirited and often funny, but maddeningly discursive.