The Cardboard Valise

Ben Katchor, Author
Ben Katchor, Pantheon, $25.95 (128p) ISBN 978-0-375-42114-3
Reviewed on: 01/03/2011
Release date: 03/01/2011
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In this winsomely haunting graphic novel from Katchor—whose weekly strips have been collected into The Jew of New York and Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, among others—an overstuffed suitcase becomes a ripe, comic metaphor for modern life. Set in a world tilted about 45 degrees away from reality, Katchor's story follows a number of characters through their quirky obsessions, each of which highlights a uniquely curious take on modernity. A hunt in the "Saccharine Mountains" turns a BLT into a tongue-in-cheek metaphor ("the lettuce symbolizes the cost of living"), while the citizens of "Outer Canthus" each undergo a symbolic funeral at the age of 47, after which they are "allowed to shed the burden of responsibility." In this slurry of sketchy and gray-tinged surrealism, the titular valise stands out with a certain haunting magic: a cheap and disposable thing (Katchor tracks its construction and sale with a curiously socioeconomic exactitude) that can contain multitudes. Once its contents are unleashed upon the hopelessly modernized island nation of Tensint (Katchor relentlessly skewers affected bourgeois quests for "authenticity"), things go downhill fast—it's the end of the world writ small. Rarely have books that made this little sense made so much sense. (Feb.)
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