Rusty Brown, Part I

Chris Ware. Pantheon, $35 (352p) ISBN 978-0-375-42432-8
Ware (Building Stories) delivers an astounding graphic novel about nothing less than the nature of life and time as it charts the intersecting lives of characters that revolve around an Omaha, Neb., parochial school in the 1970s. Third-grader Chalky White and his high schooler sister, Alice, are new students. Chalky finds his outcast status concretized when he tries to make friends with the bullied Rusty Brown and gets embroiled in recess humiliation. Alice attracts both friendly attention and leers, including from stoner Jordan Lint and (secretly) from her English teacher, Woody Brown (Rusty’s father), and her art teacher, Chris Ware. The narrative then shifts to Woody, dropping into the world of a sci-fi story he publishes in a pulp magazine, about an astronaut who becomes unhinged on Mars, before revealing Woody’s own youthful heartbreak. Next, the birth-to-death trajectory of toxic Jordan is intimately portrayed, including profound childhood loss, youthful rebellions, brief redemption, and restless middle age. Finally, Ware focuses on teacher Joanne Cole, a black woman who grows up in poverty, then stoically perseveres as an educator despite racism at the wealthy, predominantly white academy—and loves to play the banjo. Ware’s dazzling geometric art—pointillism for Woody’s eyesight sans glasses; close-ups of Joanne’s face through the decades—has never been better. Through this winding narrative, resonant echoes are drawn between characters inside their loneliness, adversity, and frustrations (such as two different characters, decades apart, placing a flower in a bowl of water). Ware again displays his virtuosic ability to locate the extraordinary within the ordinary, elevating seemingly normal lives into something profound, unforgettable, and true. Agent: Nicole Aragi, Aragi. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 06/13/2019
Release date: 09/24/2019
Genre: Comics
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