Readers who haven’t indulged in comic books since Archie and Jughead first strolled the halls of Riverdale High may find it difficult to relate to Palwick’s (Brief Visits, 2012, etc.) newest novel, a mixture of the serious and the absurd.
Melinda Soto, loving mother and cherished friend, is murdered while on vacation in Mexico. Her adopted son, Jeremy, and her friends manage their grief in varying ways. Jeremy, who drops out of college and finds work in a coffee shop, suffers from survivor’s guilt and feels suffocated by his mother’s friends; college professor Veronique has a meltdown in her classroom; Henrietta, a priest, finds solace in her faith; and gentle Rosemary, a volunteer chaplain at a local hospital, does her best to provide support to Jeremy and her friends while coping with her husband’s illness. But Melinda’s circle are not the only people affected by the tragedy: Following the brutal attack, murderer Percy Clark flies back to his parents’ home in Seattle and commits suicide, leaving behind his own grieving family. His mother, Anna, reaches out to Melinda’s loved ones and seeks to reconnect with her son by reading Percy’s collection of Comrade Cosmos comics. The brainchild of a group of inventive beer pong–playing college students, the comic books have spawned a cult following, which includes Jeremy Soto. Cosmos is a champion of order who appears when disaster strikes a community, and then, once he organizes rebuilding efforts, he returns home to care for his own broken family. The current storyline involves a convoluted plot about Archipelago Osprey and her pet scorpion. When she commits an outrageous act and becomes a fugitive from justice, she blames Cosmos for all her woes. Entering into a pact with the Emperor of Entropy, Archipelago heads for a big showdown at a Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament just as Melinda’s friends and Jeremy pile into a van to attend Percy’s memorial service. The serious thread—Palwick’s exploration of the different emotional journeys individuals face when confronted with inexplicable loss—is intelligent and expressive, but when the narrative veers into comic-book mode, the absurdity of the story overwhelms any attempt to meld the two.
Although inventive, the plot holds little appeal for readers who’ve never been interested in attending Comic-Con.