Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Summer Blonde (Stories)

by Adrian Tomine

Summer Blonde collects four stories from Adrian Tomine's Optic Nerve, each of which is a minor masterpiece of literary comics.

In Alter Ego, a struggling writer obsessed with issues from his childhood that he hasn't been able to let go, enters into a strange relationship with the teenage sister of a girl he had a crush on in high school.  The writer lives in a different town, and is in a stable relationship, but can't seem to tear himself away from this young woman, with whom he has a platonic relationship, at least until she makes a move.  This story has a bit of a Paul Auster feel to it - the writer wrote one derivative autobiographical novel to middling acclaim, and then ghostwrote another for a celebrity, which received great praise.  One cannot escape the feeling that he is pursuing this young woman with one eye on how it would turn out to be a good story for his next book.

Summer Blonde is an interesting study in jealousy and obsession.  Neil is a sad, quiet man, who has decided he is in love with a girl who works in a gift card store, despite the fact that their interactions with one another do not extend past him going in and buying cards that he never sends to anyone.  He gets a new neighbour, Carlo, who has all sorts of success with women, including the card shop girl, who already has another boyfriend.  Neil steps up his game to stalking, and lets the boyfriend know that Carlo is around, with interesting results.

Hawaiian Getaway follows Hillary, a dour young woman who loses her job answering phones for a mail order catalogue, and descends into her own brand of weirdness.  She makes audio tapes of her roommate having sex, and starts prank calling a payphone across the street to amuse herself.  She has problems with her Chinese immigrant mother, and can't maintain normal friendships.  Strangely, she meets a nice guy through her prank calling, and begins to see a brighter future for herself.

Finally, Bomb Scare is about Scotty, a high school student with one friend - Chris, who is kind of odd.  There are rumours flying through the school that the two are lovers, and Chris ends up alienating Scotty through his interest in extreme pornography and his forceful ways.  Scotty begins to get close to Cammie, a party girl with a reputation for being easy.  This story is a fascinating look at the horrors of high school.  Being roughly the same age as Tomine, the time period depicted in this story is incredibly familiar.

Tomine's stories are excellent.  He has a tendency to not provide any sense of closure in his endings, preferring to close his tales on potentially pivotal scenes.  He has a strong understanding of people who find it difficult to interact with people.  Hillary receives a book on making small talk from her sister, while Neil and Scotty are equally uncomfortable in the same types of settings.

I really enjoyed this book, and am sad that I've now read Tomine's complete body of work, at least until he gives us another issue of Optic Nerve.

No comments: