CRUDDY

The only thing this gritty debut novel shares with Barry’s work as a narrative cartoonist is its point of view: told by a 16- year-old girl, the bloody and violent story is tougher and uglier than any of the artist’s previous work. And riveting as well. The title reflects Roberta Rohbeson’s view of her world, and she’s more than justified in her anger: she lives in a cruddy house in a cruddy neighborhood in a cruddy town, with her annoying younger sister and her angry single Mom. The genuinely horrific tale, though, is spliced in with flashbacks. When she’s 11, Roberta’s parents split up; her mother hides her in the backseat of her father’s car, so she ends up joining him on a road trip that grows increasingly creepier. Expecting to inherit his father’s slaughterhouse, Ray Rohbeson came up empty when the old man committed suicide and gave whatever was left to his debtors. But Ray is determined to get what’s his, and young Roberta witnesses a number of gruesome murders. Posing as Ray’s son “Clyde,” Roberta feigns dumbness—both at her father’s urging. He’s a lying, thieving, smooth-talker who teaches his kid how to smoke, use butcher knives, and dull the pain with flat pints of Old Skull Popper. The background story comes to a head with one scene more Texas Chainsaw than the next: Roberta and Daddy move in with a family that disposes of dead mob bodies at their slaughterhouse; then they all take off for a weird motel out in the sci-fi desert of Nevada, where Roberta’s the only survivor of yet another bloody slice and dice. Five years later, in 1971, Roberta enjoys her first mescaline, her first sex, and her first friends, most of whom seem suicidal misfits like herself. The author of Ernie Pook’s Comeek and The Freddie Stories can get down and dirty with the best hard-edged writers like Larry Brown or Daniel Woodrell, all from the unlikely (and welcome) perspective of a young woman.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 1999

ISBN: 0-684-82974-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

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A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

THE CANTERBURY TALES

A RETELLING

Continuing his apparent mission to refract the whole of English culture and history through his personal lens, Ackroyd (Thames: The Biography, 2008, etc.) offers an all-prose rendering of Chaucer’s mixed-media masterpiece.

While Burton Raffel’s modern English version of The Canterbury Tales (2008) was unabridged, Ackroyd omits both “The Tale of Melibee” and “The Parson’s Tale” on the undoubtedly correct assumption that these “standard narratives of pious exposition” hold little interest for contemporary readers. Dialing down the piety, the author dials up the raunch, freely tossing about the F-bomb and Anglo-Saxon words for various body parts that Chaucer prudently described in Latin. Since “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and “The Miller’s Tale,” for example, are both decidedly earthy in Middle English, the interpolated obscenities seem unnecessary as well as jarringly anachronistic. And it’s anyone’s guess why Ackroyd feels obliged redundantly to include the original titles (“Here bigynneth the Squieres Tales,” etc.) directly underneath the new ones (“The Squires Tale,” etc.); these one-line blasts of antique spelling and diction remind us what we’re missing without adding anything in the way of comprehension. The author’s other peculiar choice is to occasionally interject first-person comments by the narrator where none exist in the original, such as, “He asked me about myself then—where I had come from, where I had been—but I quickly turned the conversation to another course.” There seems to be no reason for these arbitrary elaborations, which muffle the impact of those rare times in the original when Chaucer directly addresses the reader. Such quibbles would perhaps be unfair if Ackroyd were retelling some obscure gem of Old English, but they loom larger with Chaucer because there are many modern versions of The Canterbury Tales. Raffel’s rendering captured a lot more of the poetry, while doing as good a job as Ackroyd with the vigorous prose.

A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-02122-2

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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Rich, creamy art and playful paneling make for a fun read.

THE GIGANTIC BEARD THAT WAS EVIL

Cartoonist Collins’ debut graphic novel is a long, smooth fable of a man whose unkempt facial hair ravages the tidy city of Here.

Here sits on an island, surrounded by the sea, separated from the far-off land of There. And whereas Here is all row houses and trimmed trees and clean cheeks, There is a dark, disordered place that would mix your insides with your outsides, your befores with your nows with your nexts—unpleasant business brilliantly depicted in panels breaking across a single body as it succumbs to chaos. So the people of Here live quiet, fastidious lives, their backs to the sea, and neighbor Dave delights in doodling it all from his window as he listens to the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame” on repeat. But an irregular report at his inscrutable office job triggers the single hair that has always curved from Dave’s upper lip to be suddenly joined by a burst of follicles. Try as Dave might, his unruly beard won’t stop pouring from his face in a tangled flood—and soon it threatens the very fabric of life in Here. Collins’ illustrations are lush, rounded affairs with voluptuous shading across oblong planes. Expressions pop, from the severe upturn where a sympathetic psychiatrist’s brows meet to the befuddlement of a schoolgirl as the beard’s hypnotic powers take hold. With its archetypical conflict and deliberate dissection of language, the story seems aimed at delivering a moral, but the tale ultimately throws its aesthetics into abstraction rather than didacticism. The result rings a little hollow but goes down smooth.

Rich, creamy art and playful paneling make for a fun read.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-250-05039-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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