Thursday, October 25, 2012

Love and Rockets Volumes 10-12

As we speed toward the exciting conclusion of Love and Rockets month, I will tackle the last 6 books three at a time. Starting with:

Love and Rockets X

Often described as a Nashville for the 90s, Love and Rockets X is ostensibly about music scenes, with quotations from all kinds of contemporary songs, from rap to more alternative bands, but it is also about racial tensions. These tensions crop up in competing musicians, rival clubs, and lots of macho posturing by people in the streets. Reading that last sentence, readers might just think that Gilbert is treading on Jaime's turf, and this book is partly concerned with capturing the spirit of the day much like Jaime's early work was concerned with capturing the voice of punk rock.

But it also busts out in surprising ways that connect to Gilbert's Palomar stories. We see lots of people who used to live there and who have immigrated over to the US, and their presence casts a different light on the story. More than just capturing the feel of a music scene, this book is also about a diverse cast of characters trying to make their way in a world and the problems that arise from miscommunication and variety. This story is not about a melting pot, but about how various people retain their flavors, sometimes turning out well and sometimes turning toward unrest, strife, or violence.

I think this book could almost be relegated to period piece status, but the presence of those Palomar characters rescues it from that fate. Gilbert's musician characters just don't do much for me. The opening and closing sequences that bookend the story seek to make this story seem universal, but to me they come off a little forced and cliched. Still, there are some great moments to be found in this book.

My Rating: Maybe my least favorite L&R book. Still well above the Mendoza Line.

Wig Wam Bam

Named after a Sweet song, this volume shows that Jaime's cast is older, though not necessarily wiser. The song reference harkens back to a childhood revelation. This backward glance is nostalgic in a way, but perhaps more wistful, as the characters are all caught up in all kinds of intricacies and relationships and there is little hope of returning to those youthful concerns.

So many things happen in this volume that I am not even going to attempt to summarize, but I will say that it also covers so much emotional ground that it boggles the mind. And the ending is brutal and devastating. This book is dense with action, symbolism, and deft character work. To top things off, the story and the art suit each other so well that the whole operation appears seamless. If I had to choose one word to describe Jaime's work it would be economy. Not a line or panel seems wasted in his delivery of an impactful story.

My Rating: Out of the park. A home run.

Poison River

I cannot tell a lie. This book really impressed me, but it was something I had to read in chunks.

Poison River is a series of stories that span time and space. It tells about Luba, her life before she came to Palomar, and a tangled web of crime, deceit, and longing. Each character gets the spotlight for a story, highlighting a particular event or series of events in their lives. What complicates reading this book is that they all step in and out of each tale, and sometimes they look very different as the time-jumping means they are different ages in different stories.

Reading this book, I was struck by its emotional directness as well as its frank regard for sexuality. It deals with complex issues of determining sexual preferences, including choosing same-sex partners as well as confronting matters of obsession and incest. People's relationships drive their lives, and the complicated webs they weave ensnare the reader in a voyeuristic sense but they also seize the characters themselves as if they are doomed to certain fates all along.

This volume is an ambitious work, a life history done kaleidoscope-style, with constantly shifting main characters. This book is complex, and somewhat bewildering because the reader is constantly trying to reorient at the start of each tale. But, by golly, when you start making connections and realizations, it is a revelation akin to staring at one of those Magic Eye posters and suddenly seeing the image. In the end, there is a sense of the complete picture, even if there is not a single narrative thread that unifies the book. Still, there are plenty of shocking moments, secrets revealed, and emotions tweaked to make this a fine reading experience. I just don't recommend reading it all at once.

Full of crescendos and valleys, Poison River may disappoint some because it does not follow convention narrative patterns, but I feel it offers a rewarding reading experience. Moreover, this book just begs to be re-read.

My Rating:  The opposite of The Death of Speedy, this book is a window that has been shattered. Still, there are many pretty pieces to admire.

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