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Reunion

Pascal Girard

(Drawn and Quarterly; US: Apr 2011)

This is a tedious story, tediously told, about a tedious main character. The art is uninspired and the story is thinner than a wafer. Besides that, it’s a great book.


Reunion, by Pascal Girard, is an apparently autobiographical story—the main character’s name is Pascal Girard, which is a tipoff—but there isn’t anything so compelling in his situation as to suggest why the author/artist chose himself as his own protagonist. As a 40-page slice-of-life tale, this might have elicited a few wry smiles and some moments of, “Oh yeah, I know what that’s like.” But at nearly four times that length, the story just shuffles ponderously along.


The story is a simple one. Girard is a cartoonist living with his girlfriend when he receives the invitation to his ten-year high school reunion. This sends him into a spiral of self-doubt and self-loathing: he is too fat, too unsucessful, too warty (a wart appears on his thumb and resists all subsequent efforts to tame it). He begins jogging compulsively, which causes his feet to ache. He loses weight and buys clothes exactly like the ones he already owns, only smaller in size, and then worries that he should have waited and gotten yet another size or two down. He obsesses about all the people he knew in high school, who—surprise!—were all variations of horrible.


The reason he’s doing all this? For the promise of meeting his unrequited high-school crush, Lucie. She contacts him out of the blue one day via email, and there follows a clandestine, quasi-illicit almost-affair. This all sounds more interesting than it really is.


After 70-odd pages of buildup for both Girard and the reader, the big day finally arrives. Girard borrows his dad’s truck and drives to the cabin where the event is being held. It’s not giving anything away to say that the evening goes less than swimmingly. It does, however, go on, and on, and on. He meets his old stoner buddies, and the kids who used to make fun of him, and the girl he always ignored, and he does the limbo, and still it goes on… Until it finally ends.


The art in this book eschews conventional comic book elements like panels, along with common flourishes such as shading and proportion and any degree of visual texture. This might be one reason why the story is so exhausting to get through: the art is just too flat. There’s little to engage the eye or differentiate one page from another, which leads to the unnerving sense that you’ve already read this scene…


The story unspools in a series of unsophisticated black and white images, usually six to a page, with hand-drawn word balloons and cramped lettering. In fairness, the art can be expressive at times, and certainly Girard’s default-setting bewildered stare conveys a world of feeling. But the simplistic drawing style has its drawbacks too, chief among them the fact that the the characters have a tendency to look alike. This is especially true in the crowded scenes at the reunion, and it’s a problem. (Then again, maybe that’s the point.)


Maybe it’s a generational thing. When my own tenth high school reunion happened (in 1991—shh, don’t tell), I don’t remember even being aware of it. So Girard’s concern with how he will appear to the snobs and dopes of his own high school class is something that I have difficulty sympathizing with. Motivation is murky here—wouldn’t he have stayed in touch with people he genuinely liked? If not, and certainly many of us have not, then why would he be suddenly so concerned about how he is perceived by them?


His classmates at the reunion are by and large a superficial and not very interesting bunch, but then again, so is Girard. We know little about him, except that he is terminally insecure and a bit needy.


It could be that I’m reading too much into all this—maybe it’s just meant to be a shaggy-dog story,  good for a chuckle and not much more. But man, the author/artist has put so much time and energy into this, I can’t believe we aren’t meant to take it seriously. The book’s 156 pages are densely packed with wavery panel-less line drawings that demand attention, even though that attention is rarely rewarded.


Look, this isn’t a terrible book. It tries to tell a different kind of story; the movement is clear and the energy rarely flags. It’s just that all that movement and energy never go anywhere particularly interesting. Events recur over and over—people reacting with horror to Girard’s wart, for example—and the jokes get old long before the final pages are turned.


On the plus side, author/artist Girard possesses an instantly recognizable style, and one that may be better suited for other projects down the road. Let’s just hope that those projects have a bit more narrative oomph to them.

Rating:

DAVID MAINE is a novelist and essayist. His books include The Preservationist (2004), Fallen (2005), The Book of Samson (2006), Monster, 1959 (2008) and An Age of Madness (2012). He has contributed to The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Esquire.com and NPR.com, among other outlets. He is a lifelong music obsessive whose interests range from rock to folk to hip-hop to international to blues. He currently lives in western Massachusetts, where he works in human services. Catch up with his blog, The Party Never Stops, at davidmaine.blogspot.com, or become his buddy on Facebook (or Twitter or Google+ or whatever you prefer) to keep up with reviews and other developments.


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