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IN THE FLESH by Koren Shadmi Kirkus Star

IN THE FLESH

Stories

By Koren Shadmi

Pub Date: Feb. 3rd, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-345-50871-3
Publisher: Villard

A debut collection of ten short graphic narratives from Israel native Shadmi.

Reading these stories might take less than an hour, but their effects could last longer than the most haunting nightmare. Are they existential parables? Postmodern pornography: graphic sex that sparks more revulsion than desire? Illustrations of what one character terms “the cruelty of memory”? In many of the stories, people who are strangers to each other, perhaps even to themselves, share their perversions or obsessions as they joylessly mate and part. “The Fun Lawn” features a porn addict whose day job is dressing up in a dog suit for a children’s TV show; he meets his match in a woman who seems to want to have sex with the big dog. In “Antoinette,” a man becomes obsessed with a decapitated woman who cradles her head in her arm. Several narratives concern oral addictions that confuse food with sex. The best and most ambitious piece is “Radioactive Girlfriend,” in which a high-school student who sleeps through an atomic bomb while everyone else is in fallout shelters attracts the one boyfriend who isn’t afraid of radioactive contamination. Describing the nuclear blast, which produces a gorgeous sunrise, Shadmi writes: “As the whole town was bathed in radiant light, the most insignificant and mundane details of suburbia were suddenly reborn into a meaningful existence.” Christine, who was expected to die from exposure, finds herself more full of life than ever, sapping the strength of her boyfriend. Whatever any of this might “mean” in some linear thematic sense, the unsettling power of these stories comes from the tension between the hyper-realistic drawings and the elliptically surreal narratives.

Not for the squeamish or literal-minded, but in a genre whose artists routinely test all sorts of boundaries, this debut collection obliterates them.