Tag Archives: Margaret Atwood

Recent Reads: Comics and Graphic Novels

Victor LaValle’s Destroyer
Issues 2 and 3
by Victor LaValle and
Dietrich Smith

The first issue of Destroyer was all promise, with it’s compelling and timely premise and gorgeous artwork. Issues 2 and 3 deliver on a lot of that promise. There’s a lot more action in these issues as well as a lot more depth of feeling as we delve into the real meat of the story. The literary allusions are a little on the nose, especially in a work that’s a little too serious to fall under the category of pastiche, but as the story gets darker I find these humorous nods to the book’s inspirations to be a welcome bit of lightheartedness. Also, and probably because I’m not a great reader of comic books, my favorite thing about this series so far is Victor LaValle’s essay at the end of Issue 3 where he writes about how the two different endings of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein led him to write this comic.

Kim & Kim Vol. 1
by Magdalene Visaggio, Eva Cabrera, Claudia Aguirre, Zakk Saam, and Katy Rex

Full disclosure: Kim & Kim was an impulse buy because I happened to see someone mention it on Twitter right when I was looking for something to put me over the $25 threshold for free shipping. It sounded cute, but it turned out to be even more fun than expected, a nice balance of sci-fi bounty hunting adventures and character-driven drama with a bright, punk rock aesthetic. The only downside of the book is that Issue 4 ends on a little bit of a sad note, and it’s not clear if/when there’s going to be an Issue 5. In the meantime, however, Kim & Kim creator Magdalene Visaggio is currently offering free pdf copies of Volume 1 to anyone who donates at least $20 to The Trevor Project or Trans Lifeline through Friday, August 4, 2017:

Monstress Volume 2: The Blood
by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

The second trade paper installment of Monstress is, like the first, a true thing of beauty. Every page is filled with Sana Takeda’s sumptuous artwork, which is in turn full of gorgeous details, erudite flourishes that reference numerous artistic inspirations, and subtly lovely colors that marvelously convey setting and mood. With a title like “The Blood” I was rather expecting more of the same unflinching brutality as in the first book, but that’s not so much the case. Instead, this volume combines Maika’s continued search for answers about her identity, the increasing danger posed by the Monstrum that lives inside her, and a seafaring journey with a fascinating and visually distinctive new cast of minor characters.

Angel Catbird, Vol. 3:
The Catbird Roars
by Margaret Atwood, Johnnie Christmas, and Tamra Bonvillain

Angel Catbird has never been more than a light, fun likely-vanity project of Margaret Atwood’s, and it didn’t suddenly transform to something more profound in its final volume. The Catbird Roars has the same deliciously silly verbal puns and visual gags that characterized the first two volumes, the same occasional side-barred cat facts encouraging readers to keep their pets indoors, and the same fast-paced absurdist plot that has our heroes dealing with the evil rat army once and for all. The biggest thing that sets this volume apart from the rest is the excellent foreword by Kelly Sue DeConnick, which tells us more of the inspirations and thought process behind Angel Catbird and to put it into a historical context that explains some of its quirks. As someone who is only lately getting into reading comics and doesn’t have a wide knowledge of the longer and broader history of the form, this information really helped me to understand and enjoy the book more fully.

Book Review: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes Last isn’t as great a read as Oryx and Crake or The Robber Bride, and it’s not going to be a formative reading experience for me the way The Handmaid’s Tale or The Edible Woman were. And it’s not as meticulously excellent and perfectly curated as Atwood’s most recent story collection, Stone Mattress. Even still, The Heart Goes Last is something special, because I honestly believe that’s the only kind of work Margaret Atwood is capable of producing.

The story follows Stan and Charmaine, a down-on-their-luck couple who are just one couple of millions that are trying to scrape by in the wake of an economic disaster. Charmaine waits tables at a sort of frightening bar, and they’re living together in their car when they hear about a new opportunity that sounds, frankly, too good to be true, but still a damn sight better than having to guard their car and move around daily in order to avoid marauding looters and rapists.

The basic gist of the Positron project is this: they will join a new sort of large scale intentional community where they will spend half their time living in a [pretty comfortable] prison (Positron) and the other half living in an idyllic town (Consilience) where they will have their own home, jobs, food, and security. In either place, they will be provided for and protected from the ongoing economic crisis in the outside world. Obviously, things are not as they seem, and the majority of the book deals with how Stan and Charmaine learn exactly how much they’ve screwed up and then how they try with mixed success to extricate themselves from a pretty messed up predicament.

It’s tempting to compare The Heart Goes Last to Atwood’s earlier dystopian work, and there are some similarities. With The Handmaid’s Tale, it shares its examination of gender and sexuality in a strictly planned and regimented society. With the MaddAddam books, it shares concerns about corporatism and other evils of late stage capitalism. However, Positron/Consilience is a sort of kitschy post-postmodern paradise that lacks the darkness and grit of either the Republic of Gilead or the MaddAddam trilogy.

And where neither The Handmaid’s Tale nor MaddAddam were devoid of Atwood’s signature wry humor, in The Heart Goes Last we’re treated to a sort of ever-present tongue in cheek sarcasm with high camp stylings. I feel like The Heart Goes Last needs to be adapted to film by John Waters. Or perhaps Richard O’Brien. Or both. I think it could work.

In any case, it’s a funny, funny book that is also weird as hell, and it has a core of tragedy that, as someone who has struggled economically in recent years (although I never did have to live in my car), I found sometimes a little too relatable. There was no point in the book where I just though “this is too absurd; I don’t believe this.” I mean, sure, some weird things happen, but the sort of absurd situational humor that Atwood employs retains just enough realism that I always felt like Stan and Charmaine could be real people. Their extreme ordinariness is a big part of the humor, but they’re never boring or banal. Instead I find the characters’ normalcy comforting, and it helps to ground a story that has enough bizarre details that it could easily be driven off the rails by its own silliness.

The Heart Goes Last isn’t a great Margaret Atwood novel, possibly due in part to its odd genesis (it began as a serial work on now-defunct Byliner). There are definitely places, mostly in the beginning, where it reads more like a set of loosely related vignettes about the same characters. It doesn’t start to feel like a proper novel in its own right until somewhere after the first third.

The thing is, “not a great Atwood novel” is still a distinct cut above most everything else being published. I wouldn’t recommend The Heart Goes Last to someone just discovering the author, but if you already love Margaret Atwood, you’ll want to read it.

[This review is based on a free ARC received through NetGalley.]