Friday, November 20, 2009

The Eternal Smile

by Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim

I really enjoyed Yang's "American Born Chinese" earlier in the summer, so when I saw this at a reduced price at Word on the Street a couple of months ago (I need more time to read), I figured it was a safe buy.

The Eternal Smile is made up of three unrelated stories. They are all very well done, but I'm not sure that they really belong in the same book. The first two, by Yang, have a young-adult feel to them, while the story by Kim is much more mature in tone and content.

In 'Duncan's Kingdom', Yang is riffing on the old CBC series "The Odyssey," which I realize might be a spoiler for some. Duncan wants to be hero and marry the princess, but he can't keep himself from being entranced by a bottle of cola, with interesting consequences. Like in 'American Born Chinese', Yang pulls out a nice little twist at the end, and delivers a subtle and compelling story.

The second story can be summed up as 'Scrooge McDuck as a frog on the Truman Show'. It's a cool concept, especially in the way in which Yang plays with themes of faith, but I felt like it was aimed a little younger than I'm used to.

The story by Kim, "Urgent Request" is another subtle piece of storytelling. Sad, lonely Janet responds to an e-mail from a 'Nigerian prince' looking for money to help funnel millions into the US. She strikes up a correspondance with this prince, and enters into a rich, imaginary life with him. This story is touching and sad, and although Kim's tiny four-panel to a page format bothered me in the beginning, I grew to appreciate how he played with layout later in the book.

All of these stories hold up quite well on their own, but I still feel that they don't work that well together. As individual (longer) pieces in an anthology like Popgun, they would be some of the stand-outs in the book.

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