29 January 2008

Things Like This Are Why I Hate Realism

Spoilers. Maybe.

Essex County Volume 1: Tales from the Farm
Jeff Lemire

So first off, let me say that I think this was a very good comic. It was beautifully written, well-plotted, and very moving. I loved the art style, which was very minimalist and intense, and I always like black and white. And I also like Canada.

However, I can't say that I actually liked the comic. When I finished reading it for the first time, I wanted to curl into a little ball of misery. It was beautiful, like I said, and I appreciate beauty, but beauty doesn't equal love, and I can't love something so unrelentingly bleak. I read it a couple of times, yes, and if asked to describe it, the first word I'd probably use is "realistic." And by realistic, I mean from the life-is-misery school of realism. There were a few happy moments--for example, the scene in which Lester shows Jimmy the comic he drew--but for the most part it was unrelentingly depressing.

This isn't a problem I have just with this book. It's a problem I have with "realistic" fiction in general. I don't see why stories of any sort, to be both realistic and a serious work of literature, must by necessity be intensely depressing.

I don't, of course, demand that everything realistic be funny, because that wouldn't itself be realistic. That'd be comedy. But I would like to see people acknowledge that life can actually be something other than gray drudgery, alienation, and death. Sometimes things end happily. Sometimes the good guys win and the nice guy gets the hot girl. Or hot guy, as the case may be. Closest thing to realistic I've read recently that actually made me smile was American Born Chinese, and that has the goddamn Monkey King in it. American Born Chinese got sad and painful, but then in the end things turned out all right--and this is what so many realistic authors I've read don't seem to realize.

...I suppose that besides the general depressingness of it, the other reason I didn't like Tales from the Farm was because, in the end, it strikes me as a story about the death of imagination. It could be some sort of Tempest allegory, some weird little-Canadian-boy version of a wizard who breaks his staff and throws away his books. But mainly it seems to me like a story about a boy who has a fantasy that he loves, and which may in fact be reality, and who has to give it up in the face of life sucking.

And that...that just makes me sad.

1 comment:

NCWall said...

People should still be cheerful. At least it melts the muck