Guilty Pleasure #2: A Disappointment

It happens. A book you’re dying to read turns out to be less than you expected. That’s just part of reading – that’s just part of life – but it’s still a comedown. So my second guilty pleasure of the week turned out to be not so much of a pleasure, after all.

Rutu Modan  Rutu Modan is a prodigiously talented Israeli author/illustrator whose graphic novel, Exit Wounds, was just about everyone’s favorite graphic novel last year, and it’s only human nature to want more of what we love. Unfortunately, Jamilti and Other Stories, the latest gorgeously produced Drawn and Quarterly publication from Montreal, is a collection of earlier pieces, so it’s more Modan, all right, but also less. In story after story we can see the confident artist of Exit Wounds finding her style, experimenting with color, perfecting her storytelling skills. They’re the early works of a genius. With the emphasis on early works.

Jamilti  Of course, after her knockout graphic novel, I expected to find storytelling brilliance, and I wasn’t completely disappointed. The first piece, “Jamilti,” is like a Chekhov short story. Two fiancées get in an argument in a taxi, and when the girl gets out, she’s caught in a terrorist explosion where she encounters a seriously wounded young man who gives the bride-to-be a haunting kiss. It’s subtle, textured, and provocatively open-ended, as is the other standout story, “Homecoming,” where a small plane circling the kibbutz could be a terrorist attack or a frightened young soldier in a stolen plane trying to come home.

Jamilti  But they’re just two superb moments that give a taste of the expertise to come in Exit Wounds. Speaking of which, have you experienced that graphic masterpiece? Now, there’s what a graphic novel wants to be, with a grabber of a story, expertly told and visually exhilarating.

Exut Wounds  A woman in uniform serving her military duty tells Koby, a young taxi driver in Tel-Aviv, that she has reason to think his estranged father was blown up in a recent bombing. How she convinces Koby to help her find out what happened to his father, and what they discover about his father and about each other, is Chinese boxes-within-boxes of secrets and lies. The two central characters are both so likeable and complex – and constantly fighting – that they’re straight out of classic comedy, except that they feel utterly real and you ache for their confusion, played out against the tortured, explosive backdrop of Tel Aviv.

Exit Wounds  Author/illustrator Modan works in big, bold colors, wisely knows what to show instead of tell, and generates perpetual surprise. The volume is visually rich, handsomely produced, witty and heartbreaking and humane, with a jim-dandy ending. Every member of our book group loved Exit Wounds. We discussed it passionately for the whole meeting. Skip Jamilti, and treat yourself to a graphic novel that has made many converts to an underestimated genre.

Rutu Modan 2  Okay, that’s enough children’s books and graphic novels. Pictures! I love them. Well, I’ve got two big bags of books for adults waiting for me in my little home library that I haven’t even unpacked. Time to grow up and take a look and see what I actually brought home from that Portland book tradeshow…

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About the Author:

Nick DiMartino is a university bookseller in Seattle, WA. He was a Booklist contributor from 2007 to 2009 and is the author of Seattle Ghost Story (1998) as well as numerous plays.

1 Comment on "Guilty Pleasure #2: A Disappointment"

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  1. abbybass@gmail.com' Abby says:

    Or maybe Modan’s just not great at telling short stories. While I love her clean-line, veering on abstract, drawing style and use of vibrant color, I find her current serialized story in the Sunday New York Times Magazine not in the slightest bit compelling, and so far the weakest offering in the “Funny Pages” column. Granted, she’s up against some very stiff competition — Jaime Hernandez, Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, Jason, etc, but I can’t bring myself to pay attention to her contribution. It’s tedious. And I really loved Exit Wounds.

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