12 June 2012

Review: Wilson

Wilson by Daniel Clowes

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Having so thoroughly fallen in love with Ghost World, I was eager to read more of Clowes's work. I returned Road to Perdition to the library this afternoon and found this on floor display of graphic novels. I snagged a few other items, but I actually took time to just read this one on the spot. (Side note: The big chairs in front of the fireplace are very cozy and it is my intention to occupy one of them on a regular basis this winter!)

The titular Wilson is a crusty Baby Boomer, confident in his arrogant disdain for the world around him while deluding himself into believing that he's the good guy. We empathize with him throughout, from the death of his father to the conflicts with his ex-wife Patti and the rocky relationship he has with his estranged daughter, Claire. Yet before we ever fully accept Wilson as he sees himself, Clowes pulls back the veneer of sympathy and gives us the Wilson who can't be bothered to be as patient with the world as he expects it to be with him.

Though published as an original graphic novel, the structure is more a collection of single page cartoons as one might find in a collected edition of a comic strip (that's what web comics were in the days of newspapers, kids). It's actually a rather effect structure, allowing Clowes to explore a single moment in depth, then bypass indeterminate amounts of time between pages/strips. We know that the early part of the story takes place in 2008, because there's an absolutely perfect page early in which Wilson and a cab driver discuss The Dark Knight. Later, though, Wilson spends six years in prison, glossed over in a few pages. Ostensibly, then, much of the second half of Wilson takes place in what is still our future!

I enjoyed the broad themes, of the guy who makes some good points but is so full of himself that he fails to see how much a hypocrite he is. We all know people like that (though, surely, we're not such people ourselves). Clowes's dry sense of humor alternates deftly with a modicum of poignancy, such as the aforementioned passing of his father or contemplating parenthood from either perspective. The structure is a major plus here, allowing storyteller and reader alike to go where the story wishes to go.

Why the low rating, then?

It comes down to that prison sentence. Page 53 ends with Wilson reacting to Patti off-panel, quite angry. Page 54 begins his prison sentence. No explanation is provided. Later, Shelley even asks why he was in prison but he never answers her. At one point, it comes out that Patti and Claire "ratted him out to the feds" and testified against him, but for what?

I'm willing to indulge Clowes that perhaps it doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of Wilson's narrative why he was sent to prison except that it then invites one to examine the role of prison in the story. I'm very unclear just what purpose it really serves the story for Wilson to be incarcerated for six years, aside from creating an easy excuse why the rest of the world kept going without him long enough that some other things could occur in a vacuum of sorts.

The cover price is something like $23.00, I think. I felt a bit cheated having read it for free at the library. I would recommend reading this graphic novel, but I couldn't advise buying it without having first read it to ensure it resonates enough with you that it belongs in your library.

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