Vacation of the Mind Part 3: The Not So Stellar Bunch

The next three books to have engaged me during my trip were enjoyable but nearly as profound for me.  I didn’t feel as moved or compelled with these but I could still appreciate the pleasure of slipping into and getting lost in the story; seeing the world as the author created it and the characters were sent careening along. 

What’s interesting about this lot is that two of them were audiobooks and the third was a graphic novel, “readings” that some are still suspect of.  The merits of either form will be addressed at length (and most likely ad naseum) in future.  However, their form shouldn’t be indicative of lesser engagement; after all, some of my favorite narratives are best experienced for me in audio form (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy read by Douglas Adams himself) and my GoodReads library is fill with at least 1/3 of graphic novel titles (and another 1/3 is of course, books that I’ve listened to).

Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers

Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers had its merits for depicting the real-world liminality and faulty-logical approaches to the criminal justice system; particularly as it is applied to minors.  It also balanced simplicity with complexity well.  The story’s shell embodied a simple short course of events that the main character, Reese experiences.  He’s given an option to become part of a work-release program.  He meets a disgruntled and bigoted man, the develop a sincere and deep relationship, and Reese learns about himself and his life by listening to this older man.  Meanwhile, his situation in the detention center (named “Progress” of course) is deteriorating especially after two cops show up to bully him into taking a plea for crimes he had no responsibility for.  Reese’s story in the larger picture is not an intense life or death situations nor the stuff of mainstream drama; after all, by our cultural standards, young black male in cuffs seems standard fair, (Note:  that’s our cultural perception/projection, not my actual view). 

Yet, that’s where Myers slides in some rather interesting complexity.  Through Reese’s eyes we get to glimpse that there are many roads that are closed off to a young man of fourteen.  His most important goal by the story’s end is to work hard so that he can help pay for his young and bright nine-year old sister when she gets to college; believing that his chance is gone.  There are many moments when Reese has to come to terms with his options or lack thereof and while Myers is at times a little to heavy handed with these decrees and condemnations of modern society, they are nonetheless poignant. 

I Thought You Were Dead by Pete Nelson

By contrast, Pete Nelson’s I Thought You Were Dead feels less impressive.  It mixes a bit of Seinfeld with a bit of self-help and a dash of every none-alpha male sweet-loving, smart, insecure guy cliché.  Paul is wishy-washy, whiny, and rather drab all around.  He’s divorced; he engages in deep philosophical debates with his dog; and he enjoys drinking with his friends.  Of course, his life becomes troubling when his father suffers a debilitating stroke and an onslaught of family stresses begin to fracture; including his relationship with his most recent girlfriend.  The issues feel genuine enough, but the final “breakthrough” events just feel flat. 

And yet, there were things I dug about Paul and kept me reading.  I understood (and related) to many of his concerns about his life and the doubt, double-questioning, and resistance he met with certain personal obstacles whether it be family, love relations, or self-image.  Nelson did well with teasing out the issues that many men don’t often sufficiently address or feel inadequate about who use poor coping skills with until some day, they breakdown; either in a mid-life crisis or something more troubling.  

Sweet Tooth Volume 1: Out of the Woods by Jeff Lemire

And of course, the least likely of them all, was Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth Volume 1:  Out of the Woods.  The story focuses on a boy named Gus who has lived in a forest with his parents for his entire life, believing that to go out of the woods would be dangerous (and I did enjoy this irony that the woods is the place of safety and to leave is to invoke horrible events).  Gus is one of the few children who have been born since some apocalyptic event and has been imbued with antlers and other animal hybrid features.  After his father’s death, he finds himself being hunted but quickly rescued by an old gruff man who promises to take him to a place of protection for children like himself.  Scared and uncertain, Gus follows and steps into the rest of the world.

It’s pretty standard post-apocalyptic fair thus far with at least one good (albeit somewhat predictable twist), but as I’ve said before, Lemire still has the power to tell a good comic story through drawing.  He does extremely well with subtle panels that often need re-viewing and facial experiences that convey a surprising range of emotion despite often being fully detailed.  In large part because of these tools, it makes reading his piece rather delightful because it draws out the story in ways that many artists/authors can’t always do.  The facial expressions are ones you can set your eyes to and slowly study for meaning.

As said, I wasn’t in love with this stack, but it did provide enjoyable fodder for my vacation.  None of them left me feeling moved, but not every book will.  But any book worth its paper will do what these books do; connect with me; flesh out some piece of the world or myself (although, divorcing those two probably is a mistake in some sense).  

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