Monday, March 4, 2013

Building and Shifting and Rebuilding Again

Building Stories by Chris Ware
(Pantheon, 2012)
Format: it's a box. filled with 16 different, interrelated graphic booklets. mostly different formats. Anyway, I bought it, because sometimes, a gal's gotta spend hard-earned cash on her reading material. (her hard-earned gift card from her awesome friend.) (Thanks, A!)

From Goodreads: "Building Stories imagines the inhabitants of a three-story Chicago apartment building: a 30-something woman who has yet to find someone with whom to spend the rest of her life; a couple, possibly married, who wonder if they can bear each other's company another minute; and the building's landlady, an elderly woman who has lived alone for decades. Taking advantage of the absolute latest advances in wood pulp technology, Building Stories is a book with no deliberate beginning nor end, the scope, ambition, artistry and emotional prevarication beyond anything yet seen from this artist or in this medium, probably for good reason."

So, it's safe to say I'd never have picked this up if it weren't for the Tournament of Books. I do like graphic novels sometimes, but I don't seek them out - I just get them when strongly recommended. And this isn't a normal graphic novel. There's no explicit method of reading it - the books, fold-outs, broadsheets, etc. are packed in order of size, but of course as soon as you unpack them, you have to play with them and flip through to see all the variety and generally make a mess of it all, so it's not like you can keep them in order that way. 

I started with the one that's like a game board / blueprint of the building, then flipped around some of the smaller stuff, then wisely picked the one modeled on the Little Golden Books, which was, naturally, earlier source material about the woman with one leg who appears in most of the stories. She's the often-depressed-and-lonely woman who struggles with forming attachments, finding fulfilling work, and other 'lives of quiet desperation'-type issues while her downstairs neighbors fight (and make up) and her landlady sits quietly with a lifetime of secrets unshared, and the flowers by the front stoop grow and cross-pollinate and grow anew.

Some of these stories end a little hopefully, and many of them wrap around tragedies large and small. They focus on interior lives, the fictions we knowingly perpetuate, the futility of striving, the moments of happiness which are all too fragile. It's all very cyclical - when the building is knocked down, taking with it the stories of all who have lived there, another will arise and the lives within will be formed from the same building blocks as those who have come before. And that's a little grim, in its way, but also, sometimes, a comfort.

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