July 25, 2011

Love After 40: A Review of MISTER WONDERFUL

"So why hasn't some woman connected with a great guy like you?"

It's a question I get asked quite frequently, and becomes incredibly difficult - and complicated - to answer. Part of it is life situation - after all, right now, I'm focused on finding work. Part of it is a misunderstanding - establishing romantic relationships after 40 is a bit tricky. There's the obligatory "baggage" on both sides; the challenge of finding people who are emotionally available; and of course, there's the angst that comes when meeting someone and wondering if they are a good "fit".

That simple premise - a man who has "been around the block" going on a blind date, and the events that ensue - are what drive Daniel Clowe's latest work, Mister Wonderful. Originally presented as a series of strips in the New York Times, the novel starts with a blind date, and ends....well, that would be telling.

But part of what makes this book work is that not only does Clowes play with his art style at key moments, he also gives the characters a strong emotional grounding. I have always liked Clowes' art, and his work is filled with some very intriguing, very realistic storytelling choices. Here, both work in tandem - at times, Clowes resorts to some Peanuts-style drawing to connote some of the protagonist's inner dialogue; one panel is a paragraph-long summary blocking out events. These are some of the small, but critical, touches that make this book an enjoyable read.

It's also a book that plays on one of Clowes' strengths - his ability to write characters and situations that are drawn from real life that feel as if they are actually happening. Having two "damaged" people meet might be portrayed as slightly over-the-top or melodramatic in the hands of another writer; Clowes manages to put these characters in context. They both have a history, they both have "baggage", but neither one feels one dimensional. It's a reading experience that fans of comics and graphic literature should engage in more frequently.

I've been a little sour on comics lately - part of it is the recent news around reboots/relaunches/etc, and part of it is an awkward (but necessary) conversation I had with my retailer. Mister Wonderful gave me a powerful reminder of why I love comics and graphic literature so much - Clowes demonstrates that solid writing and art can creatively reflect real world experiences.

It's not world shattering. It's probably not going to get a lot of hype, and may seem too "hip" for the current fanboy/fangirl crowd. But do yourself a favor - read Mister Wonderful.

If a book can make me fall in love again - even if that love is more of interest than romance - then truly anything's possible.

Very highly recommended.

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