Thursday, June 11, 2015

Japanese June Review: Summer Blonde by Adrian Tomine

Summer Blonde by Adrian Tomine 2/5
[2003; Drawn and Quarterly, $16.95]

I am not sure why I do this to myself.  

I have an ugly habit of reading multiple books from authors who I initially disliked. Rarely are my first impressions of an author wrong; if I hated one of their books, I am almost certain to hate the others.  In retrospect, I think this has a lot to do with studying literature in college, where you have little control over your reading material and, when you encounter a book you hate, you have to lump it.  

Maybe this is why I picked up Summer Blonde, another graphic novel by Adrian Tomine, whose Shortcomings I loathed in May.  The book is actually a compilations of four Carver-esque graphic stories from Tomine's Optic Nerve comic book series.  In each story, social stunted people seek out interpersonal connections in all the wrong places.  When their attempts at social normalcy end in failure, the characters becomes a spectacle of misery.  On paper, this plot structure doesn't sound terrible, but in practice it is infuriating. 

As readers, we are meant to empathize with the series' hapless (and hopeless) characters, seeing reflections of ourselves or those we know in the panels.  Unlike Carver, who had a knack for making obtuse individuals emblematic of the universal feelings of loneliness, isolation, or crushing ordinariness, Tomine manages to make the ubiquitious niche. Each story is lousy with a cringingly overwrought "Bay Area-ness" in the most pejorative of senses.

Furthermore, Tomine's depiction of women leaves much to be desired.  Even in "Hawaiian Getaway," the central character is a pathetic, lazy, young woman whose life is lived in reaction to men: her roommate, her DJ hookup, a one night stand, and even William Shatner (who manages to get her fired).  As in Shortcomings, Tomine's female characters are variations on the manic pixie dreamgirl trope: sexy but messed-up, quirky but unobtainable, depressed but desirable-- all constructions of a maladjusted male gaze.  

Tomine, despite his best efforts, it’s not Raymond Carver.  His character’s foibles are not relatable, they are off-putting.  The experience of reading Tomine is akin to watching a Todd Solondz film: you feel as though you should like it, but find yourself too uncomfortable and off-put to enjoy the experience.  Let me rephrase this: if you loved Welcome to the Dollhouse, by all means read Summer Blonde; if, like myself, that film made you feel icky, give it a miss.  

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