A dark, grand, sweeping dream of a book.

NIGHT FISHER

The lulling beauty of Hawaii proves a troubling soporific for a quiet and once-promising teenager.

Johnson’s debut is not only remarkably assured but astonishingly fresh, one that refuses to trade in the usual hoary high-school clichés. Loren Foster moved from Boston to Maui six years ago with his dentist dad so that he could set up his own practice. Now they live alone in a massive house that they probably can’t afford, the too-big yard proving a jungle-like adversary that must be battled constantly (this is a naturalistic piece of work in which the island itself is as much a character as any of the humans). Loren goes to high school, though even years after arriving, he doesn’t seem to have quite adjusted. His friends are few and the best one he has, an inveterate social chameleon named Shane, often completely ignores him; the one thing they used to share, going night fishing, they’re doing less and less, though it figures prominently in Loren’s dreams. Things change, though, when Shane introduces Loren to a band of druggies who indulge in petty crimes to get the cash for their fixes. At this stage, the straight-laced Loren starts slipping: falling asleep in class, blowing off his father, wandering through the warm tropical days in a haze. What really stands out about Johnson’s work is not his tale of Loren’s growing antisocial tendencies, but the manner in which it is transformed into something greater. The artwork is truly something to behold, its dramatic and transformative lines recreating the island’s lush modernity with a sensual power. Panels are shuffled together with a cinematic flair that highlights the florid emotions of adolescence far better than any battery of melodrama could.

A dark, grand, sweeping dream of a book.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2005

ISBN: 1-56097-719-1

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Fantagraphics Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2005

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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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